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Ross Perot: What to Do With Billions

By Joseph F Kahn

He has lost more than $1 billion in the period of a month and once carried out a mission to rescue two of his company executives from an Iranian prison. H. Ross Perot is not the typical Harvard benefactor.

But then again, H. Ross Perot is not your run-of-the-mill man.

If the dreams of officials at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology come true, and Perot, 54, agress to pay for the use of some of the museum's artifacts (See main story), it will not be the first time Perot has thrown vast sums into academia.

The computer magnate, who says "I'm very relaxed" about the fate of his most recent, $72 million scheme to bring a New York museum to Dallas, is renowned for his conservative approach to business and his unprecedented approach to just about everything else.

From Rags to Riches

In 1962, the unsuccessful IBM computer salesman left his job and founded his own computer company, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), with his last $1000.

He treated his employees like troops, requiring them to dress very conservatively, to sign an agreement

to act ethically at all times, and forbidding any competition with in the ranks of his company.

His military style paid off. By 1968, after getting married and fathering five children, the man was a billionaire, rated by Fortune Magazine as worth almost $1.4 billion.

In 1969, during the Vietnam War, the patriotic executive spent several million dollars in a failed attempt to airlift 75 tons of food and Christmas presents to prisoners of war in South Vietnam. The White House thanked him anyway.

But he felt in love with rescues. In 1970, he attempted to rescue two bankrupt computer companies. Again, the attempt failed, and in a period of a month, stock in EDS dropped from $41 a share to $3.75. He lost a billion. It was the biggest one-time loss in American history.

In the early 1970s, he dropped that of the limelight, for awhile, slowly building his near bankrupt company back into prominence. By undercutting and innovating, he started to win contracts with the military.

In one scheme, he offered a plan to renovate the Army's IBM computer system, centralizing the mainframes and supplying bases with more versatile, less costly computers. He won a $700 million contract. He was back on track.

Since then, he has been competing for the number one spot in federal contracts. He is now well on his way to securing another $500 million deal with the Navy.

With his new success he fell back in love with rescues. In 1979, during the Iranian Cultural Revolution, two EDS executives were taken captive by the anti-West government of the Ayatollah Khomeini. They were put in jail with 13,000 other political prisoners.

Perot didn't bother with Carter. He sent a squadron of company employees led by a former colonel over to Iran. One of the men, an Iranian employee, incited a mob to storm the prison. They successfully freed all 13,000 prisoners, making it the largest jailbreak in history.

In 1984, General Motors bought EDS for $2.5 billion, much of which went to Perot himself.

Later that year, not to let his new wealth go to waste, he bought the Magna Casta for $1.5 million. The real one, Signed by Bad King John in 1215. He donated the document, which had been held all those years by an aristocratic English family, to the National Archives in Washington.

Earlier this year, he began the now controversial effort to bring New York's Museum of the American Indian to his hometown for $72 million. He offered to build a sprawling, 10-acre complex to display the museum's many collections. It could have been an offer the museum could not refuse, except that New York Mayor Edward I. Koch and Governor Mario M. Cuomo strenuously objected to it, and the Attorney General has promised to oppose the move in court. The fight continues to brew in New York.

Perot is watching and waiting. Meanwhile, he dropped $10 million to improve the Dallas public school system.

Now Harvard has entered the fray. Perot has said he would love to display some of the Peabody's collection in his city. The University may now work out a deal to make the man one of the greatest. Harvard benefactors in recent decades

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