He changed his name to Henry Ross Perot in honor of a brother, Gabriel Ross Perot Jr., who had died, just a toddler, in 1927. The family pronounced the surname PEE-roe, but in his 20s he changed that, too, making it puh-ROE because, he said, he got tired of correcting people. He called himself Ross; the media years later added the initial “H” at the beginning of his name, but he never liked it.
He joined the Boy Scouts at 12 and in little more than a year was an Eagle Scout, an extraordinary achievement that became part of his striver’s legend. After two years at Texarkana Junior College, he won appointment to the United States Naval Academy, where, despite academic mediocrity, he was elected class president and graduated in 1953.
In his senior year, he met Margot Birmingham, a Goucher College student. They married in 1956. She survives him, as do son Ross Jr. daughter Nancy daughter Suzanne daughter Carolyn daughter Katherine 16 grandchildren; and three step-grandchildren; and a sister, Bette Perot.
In the Navy for four years, Lieutenant (j.g.) Perot served aboard a destroyer and an aircraft carrier, sailed around the world, but saw no combat. Military life chafed, especially the waiting in line for promotion.
He mustered out in 1957, joined I.B.M. in Dallas and became an outstanding computer salesman, once fulfilling his annual quota in three weeks. Restless for new ventures, he urged the company to get into software and technical support, but his supervisors were uninterested. He quit, and in 1962 he founded Electronic Data Systems to sell computer services: billing and payrolls, insurance claims, check-clearing for banks, eventually the paperwork for Medicare and state Medicaid systems.
The company struggled for a few years, but by the mid-1960s it was on its way. It went public in 1968, and its stock jumped to $162 a share from $16, making Mr. Perot one of America’s richest men. Many of his employees became millionaires, but all had to conform to his codes: conservative suits and short hair for the men, no slacks for women unless it was freezing. And no marital infidelities.
As he coasted to success, Mr. Perot tested his skills on Wall Street, but was no wizard. His company lost $450 million on paper one day in a 1970 market swoon, and he later lost $65 million in a futile attempt to rescue duPont Glore Forgan, a major brokerage drowning in debts and paperwork.