When Henry Ross Perot passed away Tuesday, media coverage primarily highlighted his business endeavors that made him a billionaire and his two campaigns for the presidency in the 1990s. But Perot’s legacy to the general public was shaped during his childhood, specifically in Scouting.
Growing up in Texarkana, Texas, from the age of 6 through 14, he worked alongside his father, who was a cotton broker, learning his father’s business philosophy of treating others fairly. He had several jobs, including delivering newspapers on horseback.
After advancing through the Cub Scout ranks, he joined Troop 18 with the ambitious goal of reaching the Eagle Scout rank in less than a year and a half. He accomplished that goal, earning Eagle at age 13 in 1943.
“Scouting taught me to set goals and objectives and gave me my first leadership training and experience,” he said in a video congratulating a Dallas-area troop for its 500th Eagle Scout a few years ago. “I keep my old handbook in my office to remind me of the principles of Scouting.”
Perot led the emergence of the information technology industry through his company Electronic Data Systems Corp. in Dallas. While working for IBM, he realized the untapped potential in computer services, so he launched EDS in 1962. In less than a decade, the company was worth almost $2 billion. In 1968, the company’s stock prices started at $16.50 a share, skyrocketing to $160 in the course of a year.
For all the financial successes, it wasn’t solely about the money for Perot.
In Martin Fridson’s book How to Be a Billionaire, Perot is quoted as saying, “The day I made Eagle Scout was more important to me than the day I discovered I was a billionaire.”
Even as Perot built his business, Scouting stayed at the forefront of his mind. In the 1960s, he began pledging funds to help recruit new members in the Circle Ten Council. His annual contributions helped hire council staff who focused on recruiting in underserved and low-income areas. Their efforts evolved into a program that allows about 12,000 Scouts to participate every year at no cost to them.
His gifts also funded more than 26,000 Eagle Scout Award kits and council facility upgrades.
Perot was also heavily involved in the Caddo Area Council in his hometown of Texarkana. The council’s service center is named in his honor.
Perot’s son, son-in-law and five grandsons all earned the Eagle Scout Award as well. A gift from Perot’s son’s foundation established the Perot Family Leadership Wing and Ross Perot Sr. Leadership Hall in the Rex. W. Tillerson Leadership Center at the Summit Bechtel Reserve to honor Ross Perot Sr. and the Scouting tradition in their family.