John Thomas Walter
30-Year Tenure As Auburn Benefactor
Inducted in 2003
Numbering among the most accomplished graduates in Auburn University history, John Thomas Walter received a degree in engineering physics in 1955, attending on a Naval ROTC scholarship. In the four years subsequent to his graduation, he served aboard an Atlantic Fleet destroyer and with the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project. During his destroyer tour, he met Ross Perot. Working together, each man developed respect for the other’s skills and capacity for hard work and a loyal friendship developed.
His tour of duty over, Mr. Walter worked as a circuit design engineer at Texas Instruments and later as a systems engineer at IBM. In 1961, he was licensed as a professional engineer.
In 1962, Mr. Perot founded a computer service company, Electronic Data Systems, and asked his friend to join him. Their motto was “Our business is the intelligent use of computers.” The company would experience phenomenal growth and Mr. Walter would help to shape it. He served in numerous management capacities, as a member of its board of directors, and as chief financial officer. His gift for spotting growth opportunities revealed the savvy businessman inside the engineer.
In the early years of computerization, the company created strategies enabling small companies to benefit from technology that was too expensive to buy outright. EDS developed into an organization serving a broad range of U.S. and foreign companies and employing over 100,000 men and women worldwide. In 1984, General Motors purchased EDS for $2.5 billion, paying in part for the enviable expertise of EDS’s staff. Mr. Walter stayed on until 1986.
He and Mr. Perot remained associates with Mr. Walter acting, in later years, as consultant to Perot Investments. In 1989, Mr. Perot honored his friend and business associate by granting $2.6 million to Auburn University to build the Thomas Walter Center for Technology Management, home of the National Consortium for Technology in Business. The gift also funds an eminent scholar chair in technology management. The consortium unites business people, engineers, and faculty seeking the best balance of technological and managerial know-how to win in the global marketplace. A milestone in this area was reached with the inauguration of a joint program between the College of Engineering and the College of Business leading to a minor in business-engineering-technology. Mr. Walter figured prominently in the program’s development. Significantly more advanced training now exists for students, thanks to Mr. Walter’s work. For years Alabama will register the benefits of his generosity.
Mr. Walter, a Selma native, is an esteemed member of the Auburn University Foundation, where his extensive experience is valued on the investment committee. Students in agriculture and business as well as engineering benefit from scholarships and facilities Mr. Walter secured. A presence in the life of Auburn, Mr. Walter is also a force in civic life in his adopted state of Texas. He has served on the boards of Zale Lipshy University Hospital, Southwestern Medical Foundation, the Salvation Army, the Perot Foundation, and as an elder at Highland Park Presbyterian Church. In 2002, Mr. and Mrs. Walter received the Southwestern Medical Foundation’s Community Service Award.
Dallas, Texas, is home to Mr. Walter and his wife, Jean, a member of the Auburn University class of 1957. They are the parents of three sons. The Walters are life members of the Auburn Alumni Association. In 1974, they created the James H. Hall Scholarship to honor Mrs. Walter’s father. They later endowed a physics professorship, and most recently funded an endowment for excellence in the School of Engineering.