RIP: H. Ross Perot
by Jim Johnson
I only met Ross once. It was the winter of 1974. While my memories of our encounter are somewhat of a misty colored haze, my general impression was of a straightforward, honest person. Although he was friendly, I found him to be very penetrating in his questions. He used amusing stories and humor to make you feel comfortable—although it seemed to me that he did not suffer fools gladly.
His company, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), had just won a contract with Blue Shield of Boston and was looking for a manager to build and operate a new data center. I was about to sell my second company, Consolidated Services, a data processing service company, to a division of Calvin Klein Industries when I received a call from a headhunter (an executive recruiter) to interview with EDS.
In 1974, EDS was only 12 years old and had a particular focus on the Blue Cross/Blue Shield franchise. We talked for about an hour about Perot’s plans for the company and how the insurance focus was a steppingstone to a wider facilities management operation. He thought his next big move would be as a federal and state government contractor. Perot was unimpressed with what he had seen of the data processing industry and thought he could see his way to a big competitive advantage. His own company boasted an extensive training program, which he portrayed as a six-month executive boot camp. Perot pointed out that not everyone graduated.
We talked about the new Boston operation, and what he expected from the people who worked for him and, in particular, me. He talked a lot about work habits and long hours, mentioning again the six-month boot camp and the trials of putting together an operation from the ground up. He already knew a lot about me and believed I had recruited good people to both of my companies and that this was my competitive advantage. He then brought me around to some of the other executives. I talked for about an hour with each of a half-dozen of them. I learned that EDS management was run much like a military-style operation. The majority of executives had a background in the armed forces.
I must have passed muster, since later that afternoon I was brought back to his office. Perot told me that the next step was to interview my wife—that he needed her commitment to helping me be successful in my new job. He needed to make sure the many days away, the long daily hours, and the many likely relocations would not be a problem. At the time I had two young children at home, and not seeing them for long periods of time was not very appealing. I asked him if these long hours were likely to put stress on my marriage and contribute to problems with the children. He suggested there was some evidence of that, which was why he needed to interview my wife. My wife, now of 50 years, is her own person and, at the time, I did not think she would be willing to be subservient to my job.
I thanked Ross for his time and interview, but told him it was not a fit. Good-bye, Mr. Perot – may you rest in peace.
About the Author:
Jim Johnson is chairman of The Standish Group. He has been professionally involved in the computer industry for over 40 years and has a long list of published books, papers, articles and speeches. He has a combination of technical, marketing, and research achievements focused on mission-critical applications and technology. He is best known for his research on project performance and early recognizing technology trends. Jim is a pioneer of modern research techniques and continues to advance in the research industry through case-based analytical technology.