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Telling Fortunes

No. 17: Henry Ross Perot Sr.

Age: 83Home: DallasNet Worth: $3.5 billion

With his jug ears, diminutive size, and Texarkana twang, Ross Perot may seem more like an extra in The Wizard of Oz than a man who revolutionized the computer business. But while wealthy Texans before him had made their money off the land—oil and gas, real estate—Perot made his fortune from ideas, in particular one brilliant one: that the ability to gather and process data efficiently was the signal skill of the Information Age. He founded Electronic Data Systems and, in the seventies, became the first high-tech billionaire. In 1984 he sold the company to General Motors for $2.5 billion, then started Perot Systems, which he sold to Dell Inc., in 2009, for $3.9 billion. Of course, Perot is just as famous for his nonbusiness activities, including staging the rescue of two EDS employees who were imprisoned in Iran in 1979 and leading a movement in the eighties to reform education in Texas, one that involved the implementation of statewide testing for the first time. In 1992 he changed the course of American politics by running for president as an independent; by taking 19 percent, he virtually guaranteed Bill Clinton’s victory. He has not held the center of the American stage again.

 

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