Texas billionaire and philanthropist who ran for president

Born: June 27 1930;

Died: July 9, 2019

Ross Perot, who has died aged 89, was a Texan billionaire who ran for president twice and epitomised the American Dream.

Growing up in abject poverty, he started work at the tender age of seven, delivering newspapers from the back of a pony.

He was later to become a multi-millionaire overnight when his computer company went public in 1968. His second company was bought out by Dell for nearly $4bn.

Not the first billionaire to seek the office of president, Perot – like Henry Ford in 1923 (and Donald Trump in 2016) – appealed to an electorate “utterly disgusted with the political way of doing things”.

He was born Henry Ross Perot in Texarkana, Texas, to parents Gabriel Ross Perot, a cotton broker and part-time horse trader, and his wife, Lulu May, a secretary, one year after the Wall Street Crash that plunged the US into the Great Depression.

Perot graduated in 1953 from the US Naval Academy, where he first learned about computers. It sparked an interest that would later make his fortune.

After a brief stint in the Navy, Perot took a job in sales at IBM but became disillusioned when his ideas were consistently rejected by bosses.

Borrowing $1,000 from his wife he used the money to set up his first business - Electronic Data Systems (EDS) - at 32-years-old.

The company, which managed computer networks for NASA and various government departments, went public in 1968 and he became a multi-millionaire. Two decades later, his second business, Perot Systems, was bought by Dell for $3.9bn.

The most famous event in his business career didn't involve sales and earnings, however. In 1979, he financed a private commando raid to free two EDS employees who were being held in a prison in Iran. The tale was turned into a book and a movie.

The mission was commanded by Col Arthur Simons, a retired special forces officer. A riot was instigated at the prison gates and, in the ensuing chaos, the rescue team snuck the employees out.

"Ross came to the prison one day and said, 'We're going to get you out,'" one of the jailed men told the Associated Press. "How many CEOs would do that today?"

It wasn't until 1992 that Perot became a household name when he announced on a talk show that he was running for president as an independent candidate.

Perot spent $63m of his money on the campaign – which was largely conducted on TV and radio – and, at one point in June of that year, he held a lead over both his mainstream rivals.

In the middle of the campaign, however, his erratic temperament took over and he withdrew his candidacy, prompting a barrage of hostile press comment. Three months later, when his name was on every state ballot, he abruptly resumed his campaign, saying he was responding to “millions of phone calls”.

In the November poll he won a startling 19.74m of 104.43m popular votes – but did not secure a single electoral college vote.

The 1992 result was the high point of Perot’s political career. Many analysts believe his success cost the Republican incumbent George HW Bush a second term in the White House.

In 1995 he attempted to formalise his beliefs by organising the Reform party, which he then used for a ferocious but futile assault on the North American Free Trade Area. The party, however, soon fell victim to his egocentricity and was quickly riven by factional disputes.

Though Perot ran against Clinton in 1996 his popular support was more than halved. His bid eventually attracted 8% of the popular vote but, with the Reform party fracturing around him, the game was up.

He is survived by Margot, five children, 19 grandchildren and a sister.