The small and often clubby group of men who run the nation's financial center are acquiring an unlikely new member this week. H. Ross Perot, the 40-year-old computer multimillionaire from Dallas, will formally take control of F.I. du Pont, Glore Forgan & Co., the nation's third largest brokerage firm. No one on Wall Street seems quite certain how to welcome a Nice Guy from Texas. A banker sent Perot a cowboy suit, and an F.I. du Pont salesman ordered a pair of tasseled loafers for his new proprietor. Perot showed up in Manhattan wearing his usual Middle America business togs and shook hands with each of the 1,500 F.I. du Pont employees working in the head office. "I wanted to tell them that they are terribly important to the future of the firm," he explained with his ever-present country charm.
So, for that matter, are Ross Perot and his Texas-size bank account. Last summer the Du Pont firm, hard up for capital as a result of Wall Street's bear market, agreed to merge with Glore Forgan Staats, thus picking up some $18 million in new money. Even that infusion was not enough, and to raise cash last November F.I. du Pont tried to sell 100,000 shares that it owned in Perot's computer-servicing company, Electronic Data Systems Corp. It had acquired the shares in a contract with E.D.S. for computer services. The deal called for Perot's company to buy Du Font's computer hardware, then to lease it back to the brokerage firm for part of the time and to other customers for the rest. When Perot heard about the attempted stock sale, he knew that F.I. du Pont was in trouble.
Urged by Washington. Some high officials in the Nixon Administration also knew, and they feared that a collapse of F.I. du Pont might wreck other salvage operations then under way on Wall Street, notably the rescue of Goodbody & Co. by Merrill Lynch. These Administration officials urged Perot to step in. Perot at first agreed to put up $10 million; later he decided to acquire control. While not dwelling on the point, Perot feels that he acted in part from patriotism, as he is doing in his well-known campaign to free American war prisoners in Viet Nam. "It was something I could do and something I ought to do," he told TIME'S Houston Bureau Chief Leo Janos. "There was a situation ripe for investor panic."
In all, Perot has put up $30 million and taken control of at least 80% of the shares in the brokerage company. The previous owners, including several members of the Du Pont chemical family, will retain a 10% to 20% interest, the exact amount to be determined by a complex formula based on how well the firm performs over the next two years. As the firm's new president, Perot has installed one of the Texas-born vice presidents of his computer firm, 32-year-old Morton Meyerson.