Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who as a General Motors director publicly jabbed the often bureaucratic automaker, making pleas for change, and was ousted for his blasts, died on Tuesday at home in Dallas. He was 89.
The cause of death was leukemia, said James Fuller, a family spokesman.
The former U.S. presidential candidate sold his company Electronic Data Systems to GM in 1984 as an IT subsidiary for $2.55 billion. He joined GM's board as the company's largest shareholder and continued to control EDS as chairman. GM acquired EDS to standardize its disjointed data network with dealerships, factories and suppliers.
"Ross Perot was a patriot and an innovator. Our condolences go out to his family and friends," said a GM spokesman.
The union was rocky. Perot became one of GM's — and CEO Roger Smith's — staunchest critics. "Revitalizing GM is like teaching an elephant to tap dance," Perot famously told BusinessWeek, reflecting on GM's slow progress.
When GM acquired EDS, Smith hoped Perot's entrepreneurial spirit would rub off on the company. But the peace was short-lived.
In a letter to Smith in the fall of 1985, Perot wrote: "If you continue your present autocratic style, I will be your adversary on critical issues. I will argue with you privately. If necessary I will argue with you publicly."
Perot kept his promise, arguing with Smith repeatedly. He also attacked GM board members, referring to them as "pet rocks."
"The first EDSer to see a snake kills it," Perot told BusinessWeek in 1986. "At GM, first thing you do is organize a committee on snakes. Then you bring in a consultant who knows a lot about snakes. Third thing you do is talk about it for a year."
Jim McDonald, president of GM from 1981-87, said Perot rarely contributed to board meetings. Instead, he griped to the media.
"He was really a high-ego guy," McDonald told Automotive News in 2008. "I remember him talking about the lush offices up on the 14th floor ... but they weren't any lusher than Perot's own office" in Texas.
In 1986, GM paid Perot $375 million to leave the board over tiffs with GM management, including Smith, a move that was widely criticized. In a December 1986 editorial, Automotive News wrote that GM could have used the $375 million to keep 10,000 line workers on payroll for another year, develop its vehicles and even pay its top 1,500 executives for all of 1986. The company also paid $375 million to buy out Perot's stock.
Perot launched Perot Systems, a computer service company, in 1988. GM spun off EDS in 1996, and Hewlett-Packard Co. acquired it in 2008 for $13.2 billion.
After making his mark on the business world, Perot, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, entered politics. He unsuccessfully ran for president in 1992 and 1996.