We recently lost a remarkable Texan in H. Ross Perot, who died at age 89. While his passing justifiably invokes many and varied stories and commentaries, I will focus attention on his contributions to the Texas economy.
Perot was a pioneer in technology, playing a pivotal role in the development of the industry in Texas. He founded Electronic Data Systems (EDS) in the early 1960s at age 32. His idea that the future of the computer industry would involve start-to-finish solutions rather than simply hardware was prescient. His efforts were foundational in helping Texas to become a technology center several years later, and the accompanying Legacy development set forth an innovative model for real estate projects in the state.
He also played a major role in establishing the state’s presence in a key element of the global technology complex with his work to help attract Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC) to Austin in the early 1980s, which was my first personal interaction with him. He worked very effectively and largely behind the scenes to bridge regional differences in this successful initiative, which was a truly seminal milestone in transforming Texas into a high-tech juggernaut.
His early work with Ross Perot Jr. in creating Fort Worth Alliance Airport, which I was also privileged to be a part of, established a new and highly significant driver for the Texas economy and helped to define a new era in transportation infrastructure. Today, Fort Worth Alliance Airport is an international logistics hub home to some of the most innovative companies in the world.
Ross Perot was also quite involved in public policy in many ways. For Texas, perhaps his most significant role was in improving public education when asked by then-Gov. Mark White to take on the state’s struggling system in the mid-1980s. Some of the current cornerstones of the Texas system (such as class size limits, graduation testing, and the ‘no-pass, no-play’ rule) owe their roots to his work.
Ross Perot and his family have also given generously through their philanthropic initiatives. Their incredible footprint in this area includes millions of dollars to support the arts, science, medicine, and other areas that have strengthened Texas in countless important ways.
H. Ross Perot was a self-made billionaire whose vision of business and society was backed up by a willingness to take action even against steep odds. He will be remembered for corporate innovation, political activity, daring initiatives, and the myriad other accomplishments and attributes that a legend make. We should never forget, however, that he left the Texas economy stronger, more resilient, and more prosperous than he found it, and we are all the better for it.
Dr. M. Ray Perryman is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Perryman Group (www.perrymangroup.com). He also serves as Institute Distinguished Professor of Economic Theory and Method at the International Institute for Advanced Studies.