The son almost rises

Ross Perot Jr. is pushing 40, and still trying to slip from his father's shadow. He's built Alliance Airport, bought the Mavericks, and is trying to ramrod a new arena. But he isn't a pit bull like his old man. That's where Frank Zaccanelli comes in.

One lawyer who has worked closely on a deal with Perot Jr.'s company says, "People are always asking me, 'Why does Ross Jr. put up with this guy?'"

Apparently because when Perot Jr. needs a pit bull, Zaccanelli is ready for the job.

Ross Perot Jr. was born November 7, 1958, a year after his father started a now-famous stint at IBM. It was the job that convinced Perot Sr. to quit several years later and start his own company, Electronic Data Systems, and go head-to-head with Big Blue. EDS, of course, became the font of the Perot riches. Perot Jr. may have been born the son of an IBM salesman, but he grew up to become the scion of a billionaire.

In the looks department, Perot Jr. lucked out. He didn't inherit his father's short frame, goofy grin, and much-lampooned jug ears. Instead, Junior most resembles his sweet-faced mother, Margot Perot. His grimace, occasionally captured in photographs, hints of dad. But Junior is tall, blond, and built like an athlete.

In the numerous volumes written about Perot Sr., the childhoods of Perot Jr. and his four sisters are always pegged as surprisingly idyllic. Margot Perot gets credit for keeping her children on a steady course despite the family's wealth.

Close family ties still mark Perot Jr.'s life. He, his wife, Sarah Fullinwider, and their three children live in a $2.8 million Highland Park home, right next to his mother-in-law's $1.3 million house. On the street in front of Perot Jr.'s 9,800-square-foot abode (it has six baths and seven fireplaces), neighbors have seen Perot Sr. pass a hockey puck with a grandson, an armed security guard standing sentry nearby.

Security concerns run deep in the billionaire's family. Well reported was the 1987 incident when Dallas police pulled over Sarah Fullinwider Perot for speeding and found a handgun on the seat beside her. Perot Sr. called the cops, who hadn't filed any gun violation law charges, and chewed them out for the way they treated his daughter-in-law. In 1993, Perot Jr. went through an airport security checkpoint in Seattle, Washington, with a loaded gun in a black nylon bag. He told the court that acquitted him later that he had forgotten about the weapon, which he had planned to take home from his office.

Perot Jr.'s own childhood also reflected the trappings of wealth and connections.

When Perot Jr. was 10, according to biographer Gerald Posner's recent book on Perot Sr., the EDS founder used his ties with former President Richard Nixon to try to get his son into a moon launch at Cape Kennedy, even though the rules barred anyone under 16 from attending. In a letter to Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, Perot Sr. complained that Senator Ted Kennedy had gotten his underage son in.

While Perot Jr. attended St. Mark's School of Texas, he won a national riding championship aboard a top-caliber Tennessee walking horse his dad bought for him.

When Perot Jr. graduated from Vanderbilt University, according to Posner, his father sent him a paper titled "All I Know About Business." The 28 pages included such advice as: "It [business] should be pursued with the same positive spirit one brings to an athletic contest" and "Never let money become your goal." His dad warned Perot Jr. to stay away from the MBA types. "Their loyalty is to themselves," he wrote.

But as a new college grad, Perot Jr. had in mind pursuits more immediate and romantic than starting a business career. His father, at that point, was about to become a national hero, courtesy of author Ken Follett's fawning book On the Wings of Eagles. The book glamorized Perot Sr.'s efforts to rescue EDS workers from an Iranian prison in 1978 after they were arrested amid the country's revolutionary fervor.

In 1983, Perot Jr. made his own grab for the spotlight, undertaking a record-setting flight around the world by helicopter. Flying with him was his dad's employee, EDS executive Jay Coburn, who had played a central role in the Iran rescue. Later that year, Perot Jr. entered the Air Force. He became a fighter pilot, and moved from base to base around the country for the next two and a half years.

While Perot Jr. was off flying fighter jets, the already enviable financial circumstances of the Perot family soared to unscaled heights. EDS, in which Perot held some 46 percent of the stock, merged with General Motors in the summer of 1984. The deal put roughly $930 million in cash in the Perot family coffers.

Perot Jr. left the military the next year. He later told a reporter he thought about making a career of the Air Force, but instead he traded his flight suit for the dark suits and white shirts his dad favors and began reporting to Perot Sr.'s office. The son was going to be a businessman.

Given the family fortune, of course, Perot Jr. didn't have to start small. Few know precisely how much money Perot Jr.'s father gave him to start out, and those who know won't say.

But when Perot Jr. decided to venture into real estate, Perot Sr. already owned about 20,000 acres of raw land in booming North Dallas. At the time, anyone with wads of cash was tempted to buy up fields in the path of growing suburbs, hold them for a few years, and then resell at a handsome profit. By the time his son entered the land business, in fact, Perot Sr. had already bought much of the land that would later become Alliance Airport.

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