Henry Burkhardt III '61
Provides for the Burkhardt Instructorship in Mathematics

Henry Burkhardt died on August 7, 2000, a year after this article was written.

Think of a world without the complex technologies we take for granted, such as CAT scanners or automated teller machines. You would be imagining, in part, a world without the contributions of Henry Burkhardt III '61 and the company he founded in 1968, Data General Corporation.

Henry's professional life has been spent pioneering the design and application of computing and information technology. At Exeter, Henry was a top student, excelling particularly in math and science. He entered the Academy as a prep in 1958 and earned an Exeter diploma in three years, then enrolled at Princeton and while there became enamored with computers. He dropped out of Princeton and in 1964 started as an applications engineer and programmer for Digital Equipment Corporation.

“It was a very exciting time,” recalls Henry. “No one quite knew how the industry would evolve or what the applications would be. For all the computers you see today, there are 20 you don’t see, in your car, telephone, laser printer—you name it. To get to this point, we had to create a programmable computer, one that solved problems not with expensive, specialized hardware, but by allowing businesses to write computer programs that would implement complex functionality.”

After four years with Digital, Henry was ready to start his own company. “When I joined Digital,” he says, “it was still young enough to be a collection of bright men and women who made interesting things. I learned that a company was simply a collection of people who set goals and objectives, then accomplished them. So we set out to create Data General.”

If this begins to sound like an Exeter Harkness table, Henry is quick to agree. “During this time, I found my Exeter education to be relevant in a number of ways,” he says. “At Exeter, I learned to take a position, argue a point, and defend it against people who were pretty clever. Very few educational experiences allow you to come away with that kind of capability.

“From Exeter math classes, in particular, I learned the process of problem-solving. When clients said, ‘I’m trying to accomplish the following; what would you suggest?,’ I had the tools to sketch out a solution. In essence, I had learned how to learn.”

Over the years, Data General computers proved critical to the advent of many important technologies. One of these was the computerized axial tomography (CAT) scanner. Although the mathematics of CAT scanning had been known since World War II, and the engineer responsible believed it could produce useful 3-D images, particularly of the cranial area, costs had proved prohibitive. It wasn’t until Data General provided control systems that could efficiently gather data, perform computations, and produce screen images, that the first commercially viable CAT scanners were born.

At Data General, Henry was responsible for its software technology and development organizations, was also its CFO and, for two years, in charge of its worldwide manufacturing operations. He left Data General as an officer and employee in 1976, but remained on its board until 1982. He continued to act as private investor in various technology start-ups and to found additional companies, including Encore Corporation and Kendall Square Research.

Many Data General employees also contributed to the growing computer industry. “Data General people went on to start several hundred other successful companies in a wide variety of fields,”says Henry. “We were one of the very first technology meritocracies.”

Now, through his estate planning, Henry has executed a gift that will support the Academy’s intellectual meritocracy. A charitable remainder unitrust will provide Henry’s widow, Ruth, with income during her lifetime, then the principal will establish the Henry Burkhardt III Instructorship in Mathematics at PEA.

“Like many people, I put off my estate planning decisions,” says Henry, “but the serious illness I am facing now makes such deferral impossible. I recommend that others think through their estate plans and philanthropy, before being forced to do so while also dealing with some life-threatening emergency.”

Creating a charitable remainder trust allows Henry to provide for his wife while also achieving his philanthropic goals for Exeter. “I wanted to ensure that these assets would be well-managed on my wife’s behalf,” Henry explains. “I could have arranged for a fiduciary somewhere to manage the trust, but it wouldn’t cost them anything if the value went down. In this arrangement, Exeter has a long-term interest in the trust value, because the assets eventually become theirs.

“I chose mathematics because I know its underlying logic will endure,” Henry adds. “Mathematics is a way of thinking; it teaches one to solve problems by decomposing them into steps, solving each step, and reaching a conclusion. To me, it's the basis of all manner of things one could do with one's life.

“This gift allows me to accomplish two objectives—to provide for my wife in a way that makes me comfort-able and to make a significant contribution to Exeter. In the end, I trust Exeter as an institution, and want to support it, because Exeter wants to be here centuries from now.”