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Commentary By Kathy Crow, Ross Perot, Jr.

2024 Alexander Hamilton Awards: Kathy Crow and Ross Perot, Jr.

The following is an edited transcript of remarks delivered by Kathy Crow and Ross Perot, Jr. at the 2024 Hamilton Award Dinner.

Kathy Crow: Good evening. Good evening. I want to thank all supporters and friends of Manhattan Institute for being here tonight. My name is Kathy Crow and I'm a Texan and a proud member of the Board of the Manhattan Institute. I want to begin tonight against the backdrop of a historical anecdote. A European diplomat visited President Lincoln at the White House during the Civil War. This diplomat, astonished to find Lincoln polishing his own boots, questioned the President's actions: "Mr. President, in my country, a man of your status would never shine his own shoes." Lincoln thought about it for a minute and replied, "Well then, whose shoes would he shine?" Lincoln highlights the fact that, in spite of achieving great success, there are those who fail to improve the world because they neglect the importance of serving others. Strong principles, humility, and an instinct towards service and patriotism are the hallmarks of consequential success and real leadership.

Tonight we honor my friend Ross Perot Jr., a man whose journey exemplifies the transformative power of service and patriotism. After nearly a decade serving his country as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, Ross returned home to Dallas to take a sleepy corner of his family's business, Hillwood Real Estate, and build it into a global force in the commercial and residential industry. With a “Go West, young man” attitude and knack for leveraging opportunity and building alliances, Ross's willingness to outwork, outhustle, and out-suffer the competition has afforded him monumental business success.

However, Ross always understood that true success transcends mere financial gain, and he has made a lifetime of extraordinary and substantive commitments to things that really matter—a multiplicity of institution-shaping contributions of his time, his creativity, his vision, resources, and devotion. It is through these endeavors that Ross has become a national leader, building the economic, social, and political institutions that nourish and fortify our cities and country. Ross is, in many ways, his father's son, but a far less feisty and circumspect version. That he is a chip off the old block is something Ross is rightfully proud of, but all should know that he is not his father's emissary. An unorthodox thinker and seemingly invincible in business, Ross forged his own paths and tenaciously found great success in business endeavors of his own choosing. As a leader of his family now, he models civic engagement.

You can tell a lot about a family by the kinds of projects they do together. Some families build tree houses; the Perot family builds cities. And from Dallas to Abu Dhabi, they have made their mark, not only on development and infrastructure but also on the institutions and relationships that make all communities work. If you drive around Dallas, you can see the Perot family name on a lot of important things. It's not just in Dallas. The Perots have touched communities all over the country and the world. And I can tell you that for every museum or school facility that bears the Perot name, there are 500 other quiet acts of philanthropy, big investment, and persistent, sustained community-building efforts that don't call attention to themselves.

Think of the lives that the Perot family has touched over the years. All the babies born at Perot Medical Center in Dallas, the children of American soldiers who go to college on the Perot family scholarships, and the people who have benefited from the neuroscience research supported by the Perot family at UT Southwestern Medical Center, as well as the many K–12 schools and higher ed universities that have thrived with their philanthropic support.

I'm always moved by the fact that Ross is usually joined by his sisters to make these memorable contributions as a family, and often in honor of their parents. Not seeking the limelight, nor the credit, is typical for Ross. His point is to lift up and celebrate others. Furthermore, his commitment to these organizations and institutions goes well beyond his financial support, as he dedicates his time and wisdom on their boards, in strategic planning sessions, and in engaging so many others in their causes. The philanthropic impact of Ross and his family has been consequential. However, we often celebrate the good that successful entrepreneurs do when giving away their money, but only briefly consider the good that they do while making it. The billions of dollars in wealth created for investors, the billions paid in salaries and benefits, mortgages and tuitions paid off, retirement accounts funded, and trips to Disney World paid for from the paychecks provided by businesses like those Ross Perot has built.

Simply put, Ross Perot has laid the business foundations upon which many companies and perhaps tens of thousands of people have built their own prosperity. When Ross started building Alliance Airport in the 1980s, nobody knew there was going to be an Amazon or a digital economy that would rely so heavily on air freight, or that FedEx would grow to need this type of huge infrastructure. And without Alliance and the many companies and partnerships it attracted to build this logistics hub, it would've been difficult or impossible for that digital economy in the U.S. to even emerge.

Big ideas and clever software laid the foundations for Alliance Airport and the preceding Perot Systems businesses, and it's been Ross's commitment to methodically building the foundations and organizational structures of these businesses that have allowed so many others to bloom and thrive with success. Alliance Airport is a story worth telling here in Manhattan. Actually, if you walk out the door here and look one way, you see the Empire State Building, which was built in 410 days in the 1930s. But look the other way and you'll be facing the Second Avenue Subway, which has been... It's not fair for a Dallasite to call that out—which has been under construction since Warren G. Harding was president. It's untold billions of dollars over budget and who knows when it will finally be finished.

But do you know how long it took Perot and his team to go from the idea of building an airport in North Texas to completing that airport? Three years. His team forged through city councils, the FAA, the environmental review, and Congress, all in about 18 months. When we talk about making room for innovation and free enterprise or about supporting government that encourages investment and development rather than acting as an adversary, Alliance Airport is the model. Ross Perot's Alliance Airport has brought thousands of jobs to the north Texas region and contributed billions of dollars to the economy, but it has also helped build businesses around the country that might never have been without his investments, vision and hard work.

Ross's dedication to the country is also evident in his wholehearted and committed association with the U.S. military. Since leaving active duty service, he has supported the military in many different ways. From providing scholarships for military families, to being the driving force in building the United States Air Force Memorial in Washington D.C., to working to forge productive relationships between the military and civilian business leaders. Military and political leaders seek his advice and counsel and often travel to Dallas, urging his humble suggestions. It is in his corporate headquarters that he has assembled an astounding collection of historic Americana, including the original 19-star flag from the USS Constitution, better known as Old Ironsides.

Ross wears his love of America and its democratic ideals, its history and traditions, its prosperity and freedoms always on his well-starched shirt sleeve. And how better to show his love than to fortify what's best in our country, to figure out what works and to keep it working in the service of ensuring prosperity and liberty for future generations. This is Ross's way of sharing his love of country by demonstrating his deep patriotism, by giving enthusiastically and wholeheartedly to the institutions that hold this country together, and by dedicating himself to the entrepreneurial investments that celebrate our capitalistic economic system.

In the choruses in The Rock, T.S. Eliot asks a few questions that are important to all of us here at the Manhattan Institute. What is the meaning of the city? Why do we all live here, crowded together? To make money from each other or because we love each other? Well, to say that we live together because we love each other may sound awkwardly delicate, but human beings were meant to live in community. We find it difficult to live any other way. And love is, of course, at the root of the philanthropy that makes our city strong. Our communities and cities are better with thriving businesses, safe streets, hospitals, museums, schools, and institutions that great prosperity and generosity make possible. Urban life without that love would be unbearable.

The Manhattan Institute chose to honor Ross Perot Jr. tonight because of his love and commitment to the American community and the idea of building great cities. Since landing in Dallas nearly 35 years ago, and forging a strong relationship and friendship with Ross and his extraordinary wife, Sarah, over these many years, I have witnessed how Ross lives a life of consequence, service, and patriotism, and in turn, he builds great communities. His vocation and his avocations have all been a testament to the love Ross and his family have for their country and their community, and to the gratitude they have for the blessings they have enjoyed, blessings that have been multiplied in how they have shared them. Harlan and I are proud to call Ross and Sarah our very good friends. And I want to say congratulations to Ross Perot Jr. for being honored with the Manhattan Institute's Alexander Hamilton Award.

Ross Perot, Jr.: Well, Kathy, thank you very much. That was an amazing introduction and to hear Kathy Crow talk about what we've done is quite an honor because I've always looked up to the Crow family for what they've done for our city. And Harlan and Kathy, thank you for your leadership and thank you what you do for Dallas–Fort Worth, and for the country. And I've been very blessed in my life. I've grown up with an amazing parents and sisters. Now I've got my amazing partner, Sarah. We've been married over 40 years. And I've been very blessed in almost everything I've wanted to do. Everything important I really have done in my life, I've had Sarah with me. And when I wanted to fly around the world we were dating and she agreed to it and she supported it. And so all these things, she's always been there with me. And if you're going to be successful, you've got to have a great life partner. So Sarah, thank you very much.

And I grew up, I literally lived the American dream. My mother and father came to Dallas and all their possessions were in the trunk of their car. And our city embraced my parents, allowed them to grow their business and grow their family. And we feel extremely important that we continue to embrace everybody that moves into our city. It is a very open society, a very open culture, and it's a culture where we're used to people moving in. I watched my father build EDS in our living room. I'm the oldest of five—I've got four sisters, as Kathy mentioned—I watched him build EDS. I watched his success.

And the night before we went public—Ken Langone's an honoree and Ken took us public, that's how long I've known Ken Langone—my father said, "Look, tomorrow something's going to happen and people are going to talk about our money." And he said, "This family is not about money. Money's only a tool. It's a tool that you can help other people with." And so I watched that success and we kept that philosophy in our family. And one day I asked my father, I said, "What are we going to do if we lose the money?" He said, "Doesn't matter. We're going to make it back." And I said, "What are we going to do?" He said, "Well, if we have to, we'll start shining shoes." And so when I was in the military shining shoes, I really did take it seriously that that might be my backup job.

So we built EDS and then we jumped into the real estate business and I watched my father really build, start the transformation of Dallas–Fort Worth while Trammell Crow was transforming Dallas–Fort Worth. We built the first high-tech campus in north Texas. He bought a project out of bankruptcy—which wasn't a bad lesson for a young real-estate developer to watch—and he put the EDS campus there. EDS grows so quickly, every weekend we check on the project and I said, "Dad, are you ever going to fill these buildings up?" He said, "Ross, I hope so." Well, the buildings filled up before we even open. And I learned a good lesson. We went back to the city of Dallas. We needed more zoning, and the city said no.

So I watched my father dream big with a big vision and he went up to North Dallas. He bought 2000 acres and he started a project called Legacy. And Tom Luce, who was our attorney at the time and who's helped us on these projects, he said, "Ross, what do you want?" He said, "I want more density than downtown Dallas." And today Legacy is about a hundred thousand feet below downtown Dallas. And so that's the world I saw. But in that world of partnership, we worked with the cities, we worked with the state, we built roads, and we established a reputation of working with our public partners. And I think what I want to emphasize from a development perspective and from the Manhattan Institute perspective is you have to work with the public partners. You've got to form these partnerships. And public-private partnerships are the key to most of these big projects.

People think on the airport, the Alliance Airport, which Kathy mentioned, people think it was our idea, but it really wasn't our idea. That airport idea came to us from the Council of Governments in the FAA. They came to see us, they said, "Look, you own land in North Fort Worth." And I started buying land in North Fort Worth in the eighties, and I had a piece of property and I was flying for the Air Force out of Carswell Air Force Base. They said, "Would you donate land for an airport?" And so for the public sector to go to the private sector, say, "Would you donate land for an airport," was not normal in most communities you work in. But we agreed. We donated the land, we put together the team, and as Kathy mentioned, we were young and we were very ambitious, and we didn't take no for an answer.

And so I said, "How long's it going to take this airport to build?" They said, "Oh, it's about 10 years." I said, "Well, if we're going to give you the land, we don't have time to wait 10 years. We got things to do." And so we formed a team, we did the environmental work, we did the zoning work, the engineering work. We put it all together. Every Friday we met with the FAA. And what you find in the public sector is your public partners want to win also. And we gave them, through the private sector, the ability to win quickly. We said, "What do you want to do?" And so in effect, they told us what they wanted to do. We'd go do it. We'd bring it back to them. We got it approved. That's why the airport opened then in the three-year period.

And the other thing the private sector brings to the public is you have a market perspective. And we went out and started talking to the client base. Who wants this airport? And the FAA wanted a little airport to relieve traffic off of DFW. Quickly, the client base came back and said, "Look, you don't need no little airport. You need a big airport, because the big airports North Texas are full, Navy Dallas is full, Carswell Air Force base is full.” So that's why we built the industrial airport, the next generation.

Today we have over 27,000 acres around that airport. We have 575 firms. We have 66,000 people who go to work every day, 14,000 homes. And we're only half done. And we are now the largest taxpayer within the city of Fort Worth.  If you wanted to recreate Alliance, it would take $15 billion today. The public sector put in 1 billion. The public sector has now received back over $3 billion in taxes for the billion they invested. These are extraordinarily profitable projects for the cities and for the state. And so these are the kind of programs that we're able to do with the public.

And the critical thing we had was public leadership. We had an extraordinary mayor. If you're going to have a great city, you must have a great mayor. We had Bob Bolen in Fort Worth, and Bob Bolen's the one that allowed this project to happen. We then get called into Dallas. Robert Decherd owns the Dallas Morning News, a long-time friend of mine. He said, "Look, why are you in Fort Worth? You need to do something in Dallas." And so we pulled the team together and we came in and Dallas needed a new arena. We put together the team. We tried to do the arena. Then we realized if you're going to be in the arena business, you got to buy a sports team. So we bought the Dallas Mavericks just to do the arena real-estate deal—and a lot of people couldn't quite figure that out. But then that kind of dawned on them that it worked. So we used the arena.

But then we had another great mayor, Ron Kirk, and a phenomenal city manager in John Ware. They teamed up with us. They were our partner. And then, in order to get an arena vote passed, you had to go deep. We used presidential level polling to determine what the citizens wanted. The citizens didn't want an arena. What they wanted was—we had a part of Dallas that was blighted, been blighted for a hundred years, power stations, meatpacking, railroad yards, et cetera—and it was at the front door of Dallas. They said, "If you would clean that up, we'll give you the vote." And so we had a very odd election season, special election for an arena, and what you learn is you pull the whole community through it.

It was very controversial. The north side of Dallas, the prosperous side of Dallas, said no. The south side of Dallas that needed jobs, they needed taxes, they said yes. And we won the vote by less than 1% of the votes, 1,642 votes. But it's back to the partnership, back to the leadership, and back to what these projects can do. That piece of land was worth $16 million on the city tax rolls. Today it's worth over $2.7 billion. Right next to this project is where we're now building the new Goldman Sachs, their second headquarters called HQ2 coming to Dallas.

So look at the market that we're in: we develop around the nation and we're in these high growth markets, like Dallas-Fort Worth. It's the highest growth market that we're in. And we are adding. Since we started Alliance, we went from 3 million people to 5 million people. In the next 20 years, we should hit well over 11 million people. By the year 2031, Dallas–Fort Worth's supposed to be 33 million people. That's what we are building for within our community. We will pass Chicago in the next four to five years to be the third-largest region in the country. Then New York and L.A., we should pass between now and about 2040.

So that's what we're for. That's the team. We're ambitious. It's ambitious group, and that's what we're building for. And so when Paul Singer called me and asked me to accept this award, number one, of course I'm standing up, I'm saying, "Yes sir, no sir." And if you look at what Paul has done for this nation and what he continues to do for the nation, Sarah and I were more than honored to learn about the Manhattan Institute. And then Reihan came to see me, and all of a sudden I really could see the genius of what the Manhattan Institute does, and how they're focused on building our cities and building prosperity into our cities.

And in our market, we have so many people moving in. 375 people a day are coming, and some of the great companies and individuals in the nation are now moving into Dallas, like Ken Fisher, who is with us tonight, Fisher Investments. You've got these men and women coming in and I ask them, "Why are you coming?" A lot of it is economic freedom. They want low taxes, they want low regulation, they want affordable housing. And our state is very focused on economic freedom; it's a very easy state to live in. In our state, we passed the constitutional amendment to make sure we never have an income tax, so we didn't want the income tax. Then when that wealth tax started to float around, we passed a constitutional amendment last summer never to have a wealth tax. And so we're really trying to lock down our state for economic freedom and pro-growth.

And our governor—again, as I mentioned, it's leadership. It's leadership. You've got to have a governor that is pro-growth. Governor Abbott worked for four years on Goldman Sachs. Governor Abbott will give his personal cell number to every client that wants to come to the state, and he wants to hear from them if they have an issue. As I go around the country and develop in other markets, I thought that was normal, but it's really not. Again, this is what happens when you live in a high-growth, pro-growth, public-private partnership market, but it's not. And that's what our governor does—the tone is set at the top with our governor.

So I think this face mask—covering your face, Reihan, I think, Governor Abbott might pass that for you. If you get the right legislation put together, Harlan and I will go work on it for you and get it done. So we're very honored. I'm very optimistic about the future of this nation. And as I mentioned, the people moving in, why are they coming? They're coming, again, the hard issues, which I mentioned, but also there's a cultural issue, and we're seeing firemen and policemen moving into our communities from California.

I asked the policeman, I said, "Why are you coming?" They said, "Ross, I can't be a policeman in Los Angeles. The activists will harass my wife and my son at home." They come to Texas. A major couple from L.A. came in and I said, "How do you like it?" They go, "I can't believe all the American flags on 4th of July." A major player from Seattle moved in our block and came in. I said, "How do you like it?" He said, "Ross, I can't believe Christmas. Everybody decorates their home for Christmas in Texas." Again, I think that is normal, and I take it for granted. But we are in an amazing time, and I'm very optimistic about our cities.

I'm very optimistic, I'm glad to be on the Manhattan Institute team, and about what you can do in the cities that are losing the business, I think they're starting to learn. This nation needs a great New York City. We need a great Chicago. We need a great San Francisco. We need a great Los Angeles. And I develop a lot in California. So I'm there a lot. And I said, "Look, you are the front door for the Pacific of the United States—San Francisco, L.A., etc.” And you're starting to see the L.A. business community turn around, the San Francisco business community turn around. They need the ideas, they need the motivation, and they're going to be able to do it. But it has been a wonderful honor to be with you tonight. I look forward to many more years of being with this great institution. Thank you very much.

Editor's note: The original version of Ms. Crow’s remarks mistakenly stated Mr. Perot was the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross. The reference has been removed.