IBM executive elected chair of Board of Trustees

Publication Date

John E. Kelly III, a 1976 graduate of Union College, has been elected chair of the school’s Board of Trustees.

Kelly, senior vice president, solutions portfolio and research for IBM Corp, succeeds Mark Walsh ’76, who recently completed his four-year term.

David L. Henle ’75, the head of DLH Capital, a family investment firm, was elected vice chair, succeeding Kelly.

“I am honored and grateful to be chosen for this position,” Kelly said. “I look forward to working with the entire Board of Trustees and President Stephen C. Ainlay to ensure the long-term strength of Union. Higher education is facing many challenges due to demographics, cost, technology and other factors. While Union is in a very solid position, it’s important to adhere to the priorities that support our strategic plan so we can continue to be a leader in a highly competitive higher education market.”

Kelly has held numerous management and technical positions since joining IBM in 1980.

Most recently he was senior vice president and director of IBM Research, only the 10th person to hold that position over the past seven decades. Under Kelly, IBM Research expanded its global footprint by adding four new labs (including IBM’s first in Africa, South America and Australia), creating a network of approximately 3,000 scientists and technical employees across 12 laboratories in 10 countries.

During his tenure, IBM maintained and extended what is now 22 straight years of patent leadership. Kelly and his team were responsible for advancing the science of cognitive computing through his support for Watson, the groundbreaking system that defeated two standing Jeopardy world champions in 2011. He also was instrumental in helping transition IBM’s semiconductor business to GlobalFoundries, while maintaining a commitment to leading-edge microelectronics research.

His current portfolio includes IBM Analytics, IBM Commerce, IBM Security and IBM Watson, as well as IBM Research and the company’s Intellectual Property team.

Kelly is chair of the Board of Governors of the IBM Academy of Technology, a member of the board and immediate past chair of the Semiconductor Industry Association, a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and a member of the Board of the New York Academy of Sciences.

Kelly received a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from Union. He received a Master of Science degree in physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1978 and a Doctorate in materials engineering from RPI in 1980.

A Union trustee since 2003, Kelly also serves on the Board of Trustees at RPI.

Kelly is the recipient of numerous technical and business leadership awards, including the semiconductor industry’s highest honor, the Robert N. Noyce Award, and the IEEE’s top award for R&D management, the Frederik Philips Award. In 2013, he received the National Academy of Engineering’s Arthur M. Bueche Award for his leadership in driving U.S. semiconductor technology excellence through broad government, university and corporate collaboration.

The author of many technical papers, he recently published Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing with Steve Hamm.

A longtime benefactor to the College, Kelly and his wife, Helen-Jo, have supported a number of projects at Union, including the John E. Kelly III ’76 Digital Arts Lab, an interdisciplinary endeavor between the Visual Arts and Computer Science departments, the Kelly Computing and Innovation Lab in the Peter Irving Wold Center, and the Kelly Adirondack Center, which includes the former home of the noted Adirondack conservationist Paul Schaefer (1908-1996) and the Adirondack Research Library. The library boasts the largest collection of material outside of the Adirondack Park, including rare books, maps, photographs, documents and the personal papers of some of the region's foremost conservationists.

He also facilitated the donation by IBM of an Intelligent Cluster, a computer system that provides Union with one of the most advanced computing capabilities of any undergraduate liberal arts college in the nation.

In 2011, he was recognized for his outstanding contributions to Union when he was presented with the Alumni Gold Medal.

“We are excited to have someone with John’s background lead the board,” said President Ainlay. “His expertise and perspective have been invaluable during his time on the board, and his passion and devotion to Union are unmatched. John has been a champion of not only Union, but to the entire region with his commitment to innovation. I look forward to working closely with John as we continue to implement the College’s strategic plan, which positions the institution as one of the finest in higher education.”