PEROT BOWS OUT : Perot Said to Have History of ‘Quitting’ : Pattern: From his push to leave the Navy to his exit from GM, the Texas billionaire’s ex-associates say they aren’t surprised he didn’t finish the race.


Over lunch Tuesday, the 10-member executive committee of Dallas-based Electronic Data Systems held an informal straw poll on the outcome of the 1992 presidential election.

They concluded that their old boss, Ross Perot, wouldn’t win. The executives then tried to forecast the order of finish. At least three predicted Perot would quit long before November.

On Thursday, there were plenty of “I told you so’s” being passed out at the company’s Dallas headquarters.


“He is a world-class quitter; he always has been,” said one senior official at EDS, the company Perot founded in 1961 and left in bitterness in 1986. “I predicted he would quit this presidential campaign. And you know he’s got a bad habit (of quitting) when you can predict it ahead of time.”

In fact, those who know him best say Perot’s decision to back out of his presidential campaign, leaving millions of stunned supporters behind, fits a pattern of behavior that has marked Perot’s careers in both the business and civic arenas.

In May, Perot said that “successful people don’t quit, they don’t give up, they don’t understand failure, they persevere.”

Yet Perot, his associates say, has had trouble making final commitments of either his money or his energy, and frequently backs out of ventures at the last minute.

Dating back to his brief stint in the Navy in the 1950s through his acrimonious involvement with General Motors, Perot has often sought to extricate himself from situations in which he couldn’t retain complete control. And it is nearly impossible for a candidate to control every aspect of a presidential campaign, even one that is as unconventional as Perot’s.

“It is just sort of vintage Perot,” said Dallas attorney Ronald Kirk, a lobbyist for the city, who watched Perot back out of a promise to fund a Dallas arboretum in 1988 after arguing with city officials over security measures in the proposed park.


“His attitude is, if I can’t do it my way, if I can’t call all the shots, I don’t want to play,” says Kirk. “I’m the rich kid. It’s my ball, and I’m going to pick up my toys and go home.”

In his press conference Thursday, Perot said he was quitting for the good of the country, because he didn’t want to see the election thrown into the House of Representatives.

Yet those who have watched Perot operate through the years say the Texas billionaire often uses such idealistic language to explain more pragmatic actions.

Longtime associates say that, despite appearances, Perot hates to spend his own money unless it is on a sure thing. So when it became clear to him that he really would have to spend about $100 million of his own money on a risky presidential bid, those who know him believe, Perot decided to quit before devoting much of his financial resources.

“He’s always wanted the brass ring, and sometimes he comes to the point where he asks himself whether or not it’s worth reaching for,” observed Hayes C. McClerkin, a childhood friend of Perot’s and now an attorney in Perot’s hometown of Texarkana, Tex.

Perot “felt it was time to cut and run,” McClerkin said. “Like the song says, he knows when to hold ‘em, and he knows when to fold ‘em. I think he looked at his cards and knew that for him, it was time to fold.”


Old associates say Perot often makes promises that he later decides he can’t or doesn’t want to keep. He often will pledge massive financial or personal support for a project or company, then back off in the face of controversy or financial losses. Perot, they say, will often rationalize such actions by saying his decision to break his pledge is in the best interests of all involved.

“To Ross, a promise is really just a figure of speech,” said one senior EDS official who worked with Perot for 25 years. “And he has a tough time knowing when enough is enough, when he’s making promises that he can’t deliver on.”

Perot’s pattern dates back to his Navy service in the mid-1950s, when he requested an early discharge after serving only 15 months of the four years’ active duty then required of recent Naval Academy graduates.

Letters Perot wrote at the time argued that the Navy was not moral enough for him. In his 1955 letter seeking discharge, he said: “I made the decision to become a career naval officer based upon the high standards of devotion to duty, honor, leadership, self-reliance, religion and other officer-like qualities that were taught at the Naval Academy. I have not found these high standards to exist generally in the fleet.”

The pattern continued when Perot left GM in a historic corporate battle in 1986. Perot sold EDS, the company that was the basis for his vast fortune, to the auto maker in 1984, and promised that he was coming to revitalize the giant company and help battle the Japanese. GM kept Perot on as chairman of EDS, and gave him a seat on its board of directors.

But after two years of battling GM Chairman Roger Smith over the direction of the corporation, Perot quit both GM and EDS, in exchange for a $700-million buyout by GM of his shares in the company.


Perot told reporters he had been forced out of GM by Smith and the entrenched management that didn’t want to listen to his ideas for reform.

Perot has backed out in less visible circumstances as well, most notably in civic projects in the Dallas area. In the 1988 arboretum case, for example, Perot demanded that Dallas officials return his $2-million donation and announced that he would withhold another $6 million he had pledged toward the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Society’s plan to develop a new park surrounding White Rock Lake.

While Perot ultimately dropped his demand for the return of the initial $2 million, his decision to quit was a major blow to the proposed $45-million project. Dallas officials said Perot was upset that one of the conditions of his grant, a plan to plant thousands of trees around the edge of the lake, was not satisfied, and that officials did not adopt his proposals to institute an elaborate security structure to prevent crime within the park.

Risen reported from Chicago and Healy reported from Washington.