The Very Private World of Ross Perot HE SPLURGES ON HOMES, GEMS AND BOATS BUT SAVES PENNIES AT HOME DEPOT.
(MONEY Magazine) – So you think you have the measure of Ross Perot: tough, self-made billionaire, authoritarian populist and -- until mid-July's about-face -- presidential wannabe. You only know half of it. The part you don't know is this: what he does with his $3.3 billion. True, his recent Federal Election Commission disclosure statement sheds light on how he invests. The bulk of his fortune, an estimated $2.6 billion, is safely in cash, U.S. Treasury bills, corporate debt and municipal bonds from 44 states. But what about how he spends money -- and the lifestyle he and his family enjoy? To get the answers, MONEY undertook a monthlong investigation, combing through thousands of pages of public documents and interviewing more than 50 of the Perots' hometown Dallas friends and associates in three states and Bermuda. What MONEY discovered was that inside this self-confident billionaire lurks a Depression-era Boy Scout from Texarkana, Texas. On one hand, he will spend big on luxuries he and his family genuinely enjoy. But he also relishes a bargain, detests waste and goes ballistic if he thinks he's overpaying for anything. The private side of Perot is hidden behind a nearly impenetrable wall of secrecy that has been erected by friends, family, employees and the man himself. Perot declined to be interviewed for this article. Says JoAnne Roosevelt, a longtime Perot friend and the wife of F.D.R.'s grandson Elliott Roosevelt Jr.: ''Most of the time we've pretended we didn't know them.'' Perot's private security force is made up mainly of off-duty Dallas police officers. The likeliest reason for a public figure like Perot, 62, to be security-minded is fear of harm to his family -- to his wife of 35 years, Margot, 58, their five children and five grandchildren. An armed-camp atmosphere, however, has prevailed at the Perot household for more than two decades, back to a time when he was a mere multimillionaire. A telling tale: In 1969, a year after Perot bought his Dallas estate, the widow of Texas oil and gas lawyer Angus Wynne, who had built it in 1937, decided to show the property to her grandson. Having been invited by Perot's wife Margot, they drove onto the grounds for a look-see. Just as the house came into view, an army of security guards materialized. ''It was like something out of a UFO novel,'' recalls the grandson, Shannon Wynne. ''All of a sudden, every 10 or 15 feet, there was a guard.'' Clearly, security is one thing Perot doesn't mind digging deep to buy. But make no mistake, the man is frugal. For instance, in 1988, when Steve McElroy, an entrepreneur Perot had bankrolled, needed to buy product-liability insurance for his small container-manufacturing company, McElroy settled on a policy with a $2,000-a-year premium, proud that he had turned down ones costing as much as $10,000. But his billionaire partner chewed him out for such waste, pointing him to a policy with a $1,800 premium. ''He's always saying that people who blow money on little things will probably blow it on big things,'' says the still awed McElroy. ''I could never be frivolous with money around him.'' Many of MONEY's findings support this view of Perot as a free-spending penny pincher. Among them: -- The Perots' four homes -- the 20-acre spread in North Dallas, a getaway on Lake Texoma at the Texas-Oklahoma border, a ski chalet in Vail, Colo., and the fabulous Bermuda compound pictured on page 105 -- are worth a combined $28.4 million, according to real estate experts and public documents consulted by MONEY. But, although he has an ample staff to do his bidding, Perot personally shops at a Home Depot store near his Dallas home, where he selects building materials for repairs and improvements. -- Perot delights in presenting Margot with expensive jewelry. One diamond- and-pearl stunner, pictured around Margot's neck on page 104, is, according to Perot intimates, a $990,000 masterpiece from the estate of the late Florence Gould, daughter-in-law of robber baron Jay Gould. Yet Perot cruises around Dallas in a seven-year-old burgundy Oldsmobile worth only about $4,300. -- In addition to entertaining lavishly at their home, the Perots frequent such fine Dallas dining establishments as the Old Warsaw, where dinner can easily run $70 a person. Perot's favorite lunch spot, however, remains Dickey's Barbeque Pit where he picks up his own food in the cafeteria line. Typical tab: $8. Here's a more detailed rundown of how Perot chooses to spend -- and not to spend:
THE HOUSES Ross and Margot Perot's North Dallas estate is the only one of their four homes that they occupy alone. Their children and grandchildren make as much use of the family's three vacation properties as they do. The couple spend most of their time in their Dallas home, a white-columned red-brick house with a circular grand staircase and a bowling alley in the basement. Friends say the house, with some rooms graced by Impressionist art, expresses Margot Perot's quiet taste. Besides the full-size gymnasium, the compound also includes stables with three horses in residence, a swimming pool, a tennis court and acres of impeccably tended lawns. All together it is valued at $9.5 million. And just outside the compound is a house -- white-columned and red brick, like the one the Perots live in but less graceful -- on its own 2.23-acre lot. Also owned by Perot, it is worth $1.2 million. Perot rents it out for more than $7,500 a month.
For quick getaways, the Perots have their 12.4-acre estate 82 miles north of Dallas at Lake Texoma. The 5,642-square-foot, gabled gray frame main house was built last year. Scattered around the tidily landscaped lakefront site are a striking contemporary guesthouse, two smaller cottages (one 1,285 square feet, the other 1,919), a boathouse, a shop for maintenance vehicles, and two swimming pools. This Grayson County getaway is on the tax rolls for $1,174,289, a fair approximation of its market value. The most beautiful of Perot's homes is also his favorite vacation spot, according to friends. In 1985 he paid $2.5 million for Caliban -- a five- bedroom house on 2.9 acres in Tucker's Town, Bermuda's most exclusive and expensive neighborhood, where prices today start at $2 million. A month later, he bought the all-white Vertigo, the house on the neighboring 3.2 acres, for $2 million. Perot proved such a canny bargain hunter that the former owner of Caliban sued the real estate agents for $1 million, claiming that if they had told him Perot was also buying Vertigo, he never would have agreed to part with his property for $2.5 million -- $1 million less than he had asked for it two years earlier. He argued that together the two properties were worth more than if they were owned separately. Although he lost the case in a London court, the former owner may have had a point: Real estate agents peg the compound's current value at between $15 million and $20 million. Caliban is one of the most dramatically situated houses in the British crown colony. It sits on a rock cliff on a narrow neck of land. Although Ross Sr. bought Caliban, Ross Jr., a 33-year-old real estate developer, is listed as its taxpayer and, according to court records, spent $2 million sprucing it up, including building a $300,000 caretaker's cottage. Perot's dislike of wasting money -- even when it's not his own -- is well known in Bermuda. When he arranged for Pied Piper Pest Control to exterminate bugs in both houses for a total of $350 a month, he offered to add on an extra $3 per invoice to keep the company from losing out on the exchange rate. On Christmas and Easter, the Perot tribe gets together at their ski chalet in Vail. Perot, who likes all his sports fast, skis (moderately well, say the locals). The Perots have owned vacation property in Vail for more than 15 years. Their current home is a custom-built eight-bedroom, 8 1/2-bath stone-and- stucco structure on a 15,886-square-foot lot in Vail Village. They bought the property in March 1976 for what was a relative bargain price of $170,000. The house took a year and a half to build and includes an elevator to carry weary skiers between its three floors. The land and house are worth roughly $2.7 million.
CARS, BOATS AND PLANES Although Perot has been a critic of General Motors since his years as a GM director (1984 to 1986), he makes heavy use of the company's products. Besides his 1985 Olds, he keeps a 1984 Chevrolet at his Vail house and another 1984 Chevy and two 1985s in Dallas. He also has a 1989 Volvo (appraised at $10,100). Margot drives a white 1985 Jaguar sedan ($10,125). A second, sportier two-door 1989 Jaguar ($34,675) probably belongs to Ross Jr. For longer distances, Perot owns a 1983 Bell LongRanger helicopter (worth at least $300,000) that his son pilots. Perot Sr. is known to brag about his two jets -- a Gates Learjet 35A and a 1968 Gulfstream -- and how he bought them cheap on the secondhand market. Today the Gulfstream is valued at $5.5 million. His Learjet, also used by his business associates, is worth about $2.5 million. All three aircraft are registered to one of Perot's companies. Former Navy Ensign Perot's biggest personal indulgence is his boats. Like President Bush, he is a Cigarette-boat enthusiast. Oceangoing super- speedboats, they sell for as much as $750,000. Perot keeps one at Lake Texoma and one in Bermuda. The family's floating fleet also includes assorted Jet Skis, a Windsurfer, a sporty 22-foot fishing boat called Sweet Sue, and a 51-foot luxury yacht known as Chateau Margaux. The yacht was the setting for a family outing last Father's Day in the Atlantic off Bermuda.
THE LOOK At formal events, Margot Perot stops traffic with one of her museum-quality necklaces and other major jewelry bought by her husband. But at all other times she's as subdued as any suburban matron -- plain gold earrings, a simple strand of pearls. She wears warm-up suits around the house and while running errands. She shops near her home at the Prestonwood Town Center Foley's, a department store whose most expensive women's line is Donna Karan New York ($425 for a summer jacket), and she occasionally orders something from Neiman Marcus (''but never the most expensive dress in a collection,'' says a friend). Many of Margot Perot's suits and ball gowns are created for her by Dallas designer Sam Milo, whose prices run from $650 for a simple day dress to $7,000 for an opulent beaded gown. Ross Perot's suits are standard, off-the-rack American-cut executive issue. ''If you asked him why he'd buy a $500 suit when he could have a $2,000 suit made for him, he'd probably tell you he'd rather have a $500 suit and $1,500 in bonds,'' says Steve McElroy. His supershort haircut requires weekly trimming. For the past 20 years, Bob Colombe at the barbershop in the Preston Forest shopping center has wielded the clippers. Lately, Colombe says, men have been coming in asking for a ''Perot cut.'' The charge: $10.
ENTERTAINING ''I'm not social. Margot isn't social. We don't go to Palm Springs. We don't play polo.'' With these words, Perot seven years ago declined an interview request from Town & Country magazine. Yet Perot's associates describe him as a gregarious man who enjoys attending and giving parties. When the Perots entertain formally, say friends, the Dallas gymnasium is transformed into a ballroom with rugs covering the full-size basketball court. White-gloved waiters serve candle-lit seven-course meals on white linen set with large vases of fresh-cut flowers. In mild weather, the couple have held similar parties under a white tent on the lawn; that's the setting Perot's second daughter, Suzanne, chose for her wedding in 1990. When the Perots dine out at the Old Warsaw, known for its safe and traditional Continental cuisine and strolling violinists, Perot heads straight for the $26 Dover sole. At the equally pricey Mansion on Turtle Creek, which leads the town's culinary avant-garde with its nouvelle southwestern cuisine, Perot is known to favor the lobster tacos ($16) and grilled fish seclections ($26). For lunch, Perot frequents another world at Dickey's, which also caters when he entertains Texas-style. That won't do, of course, when the Perots' third daughter, Carolyn, celebrates her nuptials this month with food by one of Dallas' fanciest caterers. From down home to upper crust, Ross Perot makes the leap without missing a beat.