The End of Eagle Computer :Tragic Real Story with tribute to CEO Dennis Barnhart

 

The story of Eagle Computer is a tragic one. The company launched a line of popular CP/M systems in 1980/1981. By 1983, it was considered one of the premier manufacturers of IBM-compatibles–on par with the likes of Compaq.

Eagle Computer of Los Gatos, California, was an early microcomputer manufacturing company. Spun off from Audio-Visual Laboratories (AVL), it first sold a line of popular CP/M computers which were highly praised in the computer magazines of the day. After the IBM PC was launched, Eagle produced the Eagle 1600 series, which ran MS-DOS but were not true clones. When it became evident that the buying public wanted actual clones of the IBM PC, even if a non-clone had better features, Eagle responded with a line of clones, including a portable. The Eagle PCs were always rated highly in computer magazines.On June 8, 1983, the day of Eagle’s initial public offering, its president, Dennis Barnhart, was killed in a crash of his new Ferrari. (He had just taken a yacht salesman to lunch.)[3] There was a succession plan in place which resulted in the assumption of the CEO position by Ronald Mickwee. As news of Barnhart’s death spread, the underwriters reversed the IPO, refunding the money that investors had paid for the stock, and held another IPO a few months later, which was unprecedented in the PC industry. This dramatic timing has led people to suppose that this event caused the end of Eagle.

A former Navy aviator, Mr. Barnhart graduated in 1965 from the University of Washington. Before joining Eagle, he had made his way through many of California’s computer companies: as a consultant to a software publisher and two microcomputer manufacturers, as a director of the business section of Rockwell International’s microelectronic device division and as a vice president of Commodore Business Machines.Mr. Barnhart, who grew up in Everett, Wash., was named president of Eagle in May 1982, five months after Mr. Kappenman hired him as vice president for marketing.

Eagle, which had sales of $17 million but profits of only $67,000 in the nine months ended April 2, is one of a dozen companies seeking larger markets for their ”professional” microcomputers, analysts said. Eagle II Well Received

The Eagle II, its first product, was well received. And Eagle began to sell its Eagle PC, a machine that resembled the popular personal computer made by the International Business Machines Corporation. Eagle PC could use virtually all of the programs designed for I.B.M.

The outlook for the new machine was considered particularly bright because I.B.M. was having difficulty filling the demand for its version.Mr. Barnhart, a bearded electrical engineer who frequently expressed pride in the management team he had assembled, scored a solid success with the company’s first offering of stock to the public. Details of Stock Offering

The 2.75 million shares were offered Wednesday on the over-thecounter market at $13 each. They were snapped up within hours, rising in value to $17 and closing at $15.50. The company would have raised $37 million by issuing the stock, and the value of Mr. Barnhart’s 592,000 shares on the market would have been $9 million. Trading in the stock was halted yesterday after news of the crash. With the withdrawal of the stock offering, the company will not realize any money from Wednesday’s sales.

Initial public offerings are occasionally rescinded because of poor market conditions, but Eagle’s move is unusual in that it was a popular offering that was withdrawn because of a crisis within the company.But unfortunately, the young president of a successful new computer company died on next Wednesday afternoon in a car crash in California’s Silicon Valley, hours after his company had sold its stock to the public for the first time and he had become a multimillionaire.

Dennis R. Barnhart, 40 years old, president and chief executive officer of Eagle Computer Inc., was on his way home to his wife and three children with a companion, Sheldon R. Caughey, also 40.

It is not clear who was driving, but Mr. Barnhart’s red Ferrari veered out of control a block from company headquarters in Los Gatos. The car flew through the air, tore through 20 feet of guard rail and crashed into a ravine.

 

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