Henry Ross Perot, a groundbreaking information technology businessman, philanthropist, and two-time presidential candidate, was born on June 27, 1930, in Texarkana, Texas. His parents, Gabriel Ross Perot, Sr., and Lulu May (Ray) Perot, originally named him Henry Ray, but he changed his middle name to Ross in honor of his brother, Gabriel Ross, who died as a young child. Thereafter he went by Ross Perot, though journalists often included his first initial in media reports, much to his chagrin.
Hard-working and ambitious, Perot caught the entrepreneurial bug from his father, a cotton broker and horse trader. During his adolescence, Perot hawked garden seeds and delivered daily newspapers to neighbors. He was active in the Boy Scouts and at age thirteen achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. Throughout his life he credited the Boy Scouts for its influence on his values of hard work and leadership. He achieved good grades at Texarkana’s Texas High School, then spent two years at Texarkana Junior College before Senator W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel granted his appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. Perot’s leadership qualities blossomed at Annapolis. He held numerous elected positions, including serving as class president during his junior and senior years. He also chaired the Honor Committee, credited with developing an honor system, at the Naval Academy. Perot met Margot Birmingham during his final year in Annapolis, and the couple eventually married on September 15, 1956, and went on to have five children.
After graduating from Annapolis in 1953, Perot matriculated into the U. S. Navy where he was first assigned to the destroyer USS Sigourney during the latter days of the Korean War. He later served as an assistant navigator aboard the aircraft carrier USS Leyte. A chance encounter aboard the Leyte with an International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) executive changed Perot’s life. The businessman encouraged Perot to apply for a job at IBM, further convincing Perot that his future lay in the private sector rather than the military ranks. Subsequently, Perot declined to re-enlist when his service ended in 1957.
After mustering out of the U. S. Navy, Perot accepted a job offer from Dallas-based IBM—the first step of his business career. He quickly made a name for himself as a top-notch salesman and once completed his yearly sales quota within three weeks. Equipped with an energetic mind and thirst for innovation, Perot urged IBM to enter the nascent computer software industry to complement to the company’s robust hardware unit. The IBM leadership, content with their business model, rejected his advice.