Channel Trailblazer, U.S. Presidential Candidate Ross Perot Dies

Ross Perot passed away Tuesday after two U.S. presidential runs and incubating Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and Perot Systems into global, multi-billion dollar IT channel giants.


H. Ross Perot is best known to most Americans for two quixotic presidential runs, but within the channel, he'll forever be heralded for growing not one, but two reseller giants.

The visionary businessman and a founding father of the IT channel died Tuesday. He was 89.

Perot ran as a third-party candidate for President of the United States in both 1992 and 1996, and is best remembered for warning of the "giant sucking sound" of American jobs heading south to Mexico should the North American Free Trade Agreement be ratified. Perot's strongest performance came in 1992, when he and James Stockdale received 19.7 million votes, or 18.9 percent of the popular vote.

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[Related: 10 Things You Don't Know About Perot Systems]

But Perot's rise to fame in the technology world began 30 years earlier, in 1962, when he founded Electronic Data Systems (EDS) at the ripe young age of 32 to provide data processing services to large corporations, supporting everything from banks to travel services to the U.S. government.

Twenty-two years later, in 1984, he sold a controlling interest in EDS to General Motors for $2.4 billion and was ousted from the company's board two years later after a feud with GM Chairman Roger Smith.

But Perot's acrimonious departure from EDS didn't keep him out of IT for long. His termination agreement with the company allowed him to hire up to 200 EDS executives after 18 months for any new firm he would start.

Exactly 18 months later, in 1988, Perot and eight associates founded Perot Systems and established the company as a fixture in the health care and government outsourcing space for more than two decades. His son, Ross Perot, Jr., eventually succeeded him as the company's CEO.

As a longtime channel mover and shaker, Perot Sr. was very familiar with CRN, and was pictured in the 1990s holding up a copy of the magazine (then known as Computer Reseller News).

Lexmark Vice President of Worldwide Channel Sales Sammy Kinlaw, a 26-year channel veteran who called on EDS as an IBM business unit executive in the 90s, said as the founder of EDS, Perot had the vision and foresight to establish what has become the modern IT services channel.

“Ross was one of the first to build an IT services company for managing technology,” said Kinlaw, a passionate channel advocate who has raised the bar for the Lexmark channel sales offensive. “EDS was groundbreaking in its ability to take technology and make it digestible for end users. EDS was the first to capitalize on making IT an operating expenditure, telling customers – don’t do it yourself- let us be the experts. EDS was the first.”

Kinlaw said Perot was the modern architect for outsourcing IT technology services for large corporations. "Ross was the blueprint creator for outsourcing technology and that model has grown and is still in place today,” he said.

Kinlaw credited Perot as not only a modern IT channel visionary but also a top-notch business executive who was able to translate that IT services worldview into a successful company.

“Having a vision and then being successful in executing on a vision is what really separated Ross and EDS and then allowed EDS to grow and expand,” he said. “That original vision has grown and expanded into all of the channel companies that have followed suit today. Our VAR community learned from Ross and EDS and has been modeled after that with services like device monitoring and help desk.”

Kinlaw said the channel owes a debt of gratitude to Perot as one of the fathers of the modern channel. “We should be grateful that such a visionary was also able to execute that vision to build a company that many of us are still trying to follow today,” he said.

Four years after founding Perot Systems, Perot notched its first significant European customer – Europcar – and helped develop Greenway, an open Unix-Oracle system that supported 2,500 simultaneously connected terminals. That paved the way for Perot to develop curbside check-in and centralized fleet tracking.

Perot Systems placed in the top five of Fortune Magazine's Most Admired Companies in America for IT Services in 2006, 2007, and 2008, its final years of existence as a standalone company. Fortune's ratings were based on criteria such as investment value, quality of products/services, and innovation, with Perot excelling in the people management category.

The company was also ranked the highest in overall performance by the more than 500 health-care providers participating in Datamonitor's Black Book of Outsourcing 2009 Survey focused on health-care IT. Perot Systems was praised by customers for its impact on technology transition and ability to deliver infrastructure improvements, as well as application and business process support services.

At the time of the company's September 2009 sale to Dell for $3.9 billion, Perot Systems employed 23,000 people and had annual sales of $2.8 billion, good for No. 51 on CRN's 2009 VAR 500 list.

The acquisition of Perot Systems was the biggest in Dell's history until the Round Rock, Texas-based company agreed to buy EMC for $67 billion in October 2015. Five months later, Dell agreed to sell Perot Systems to Japan-based outsourcing firm NTT Data for nearly $3.1 billion.

Perot's original company, EDS, lives on as well. It was sold in May 2008 to Hewlett-Packard for $13.9 billion, and renamed a year later as HP Enterprise Services. Eight years later, Hewlett Packard Enterprise's services business (the former EDS) and CSC came together in a $26 billion merger to form DXC Technology, a 170,000-employee behemoth with offices around the world.

With Contributions From CRN Executive Editor, News Steven Burke