August 1, 2019

The recent passing of Ross Perot caused me to reflect how this great American, who lived in Dallas, influenced me early in my career.  In the early 1980’s I read about this man, whose company, Electronic Data Systems (EDS) was doing fantastic. I was attempting to “peel back the onion” to understand how a man who started off as a salesman became a highly recognized and successful entrepreneur.

When I worked at Associated Air Center (AAC), I had an employee whose husband worked at EDS in a senior level position. From time to time she would share “Ross” stories that provided me with a small glimpse into the life of the  successful businessman and leader. The dress code, rules of behavior and  expectations that he established for his company influenced me when I established guidelines for King Aerospace.

I always admired the quasi-military manner in which he ran his company and his candidness. From afar, I perceived that he could take complex items and create easy-to-understand plans or observations. I really admired him when he ran for President and shared several charts and graphs in easy-to-understand formats.  I admired him even more when he accepted our governor’s call to share his wisdom and he helped create things like “no pass, no play” and other education reforms that support all people. I felt so very thankful to him and his wife for helping create the Margot Perot Center at Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas where my wife was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer twice and our two children were born.

My respect for Mr. Perot was elevated when he took it upon himself to rescue some of his employees that had been captured by a foreign government when our own government did not help. This act of commitment made more of an impression on me than I can express. Several years ago, I went to Afghanistan on my own to visit with some KING AEROSPACE employees who were supporting special missions in harm’s way. There was a point in the trip when I was out of communication with everyone. Some thought I had been taken hostage or “whacked.”

When I returned to my office in Dallas after a very memorable experience, one of my close advisors said “No company would allow its senior executive to go into that sort of environment.” Another person in the room responded “I can tell you of one other senior executive who did that. Ross Perot did it.” Perhaps his act of commitment years earlier to support his employees influenced me in my decision to visit our employees.

Although we never had a conversation, we had close encounters. Mr. Perot’s pilot, Jay Coburn, came to AAC when I worked there because AAC was a Bell Helicopter service center. He wanted to talk about a proposed helicopter flight around the world that Ross, Jr. was going to undertake.  Jay also wanted to talk with me about moving AAC from Love Field to the new Alliance Airport that the Perots had largely created.  Jay flew me over Alliance and showed me the new runway and proposed hangar sites and at the end of the flight asked me what I thought.   I candidly told him that “the railroad track at the end of the runway looks too close to the runway.”  Jay looked red faced and didn’t say anything.  I figured that my honest answer was not good and I had offended him.  A couple months later I read in the newspaper that the railroad was going to be moving the track further away from the end of the airport!

After I left AAC and was trying to establish King Aerospace, I reached out to Mr. Perot.  I spoke to his assistant and she told me that he was about to leave town. I asked her if she would give him a letter if I hand delivered it to their offices. She assured me that she would. I delivered the letter to their North Dallas office and I was impressed. I found a locking glass door, historic flags on the lobby walls and a large, muscular man in a suit sitting behind a desk in the lobby with the receptionist. I dropped off my letter and left. This visit made an impression on me. The King Aerospace lobby has glass doors that lock and there are old looking flags on the walls, though not originals like at Mr. Perot’s office. However, there is no muscular man sitting in our office lobby!

I remember an interview in a 1984 D Magazine article where Mr. Perot shared: “I used to tell my people when we were beginning to recruit:  Find people who like to finish first-people who’ve been the best at whatever they’ve done since childhood.  If you get people like that, even with poor management and poor training, they’re probably going to continue to win.  One time, somebody asked, ‘What if we run out of people who love to win?’  And I said, ‘Find people who can’t stand to lose.’”

For the past 30 years, I have collected art and it turns out that Mr. Perot shopped at the same art store that I often visit. I love the stories that I have heard about him riding his bicycle to the gallery despite his fame and fortune. To me, he was always just a brilliant, good, hardworking guy that you would want on your team.

For the past several years I loved to hear tidbits of what he was doing in his twilight years that periodically would show up in the media. The past several years, my family and I have attended the afternoon Christmas Eve service at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church. Although he was a member of another church in our community, most years Mr. Perot would be at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church with some of his family members for the afternoon Christmas Eve service. As creatures of habit, we often sit at or near the same pew in the sanctuary as did his family. There were years that we actually shook hands at the “passing of the peace.” Every year I always looked for him with an appreciative, admiring heart and with thankfulness for his service to our community and Country. This past year was no different. He was at the service and I once again felt thankful for our close encounter and for him serving as a role model from afar. I couldn’t help but wonder if we would I would see him again next year.

Mr. Perot was buried not far from where I will be buried. I am blessed and honored to one day have him as a “neighbor.” Maybe the United States flag that flies over his grave will create a shadow on my final resting place. I am most thankful for this man who influenced me and my company and served as a role model to so many! God Bless America!

Written by KING AEROSPACE Founder, Jerry Allan King-Echevarria.