As a young boy, each morning before school Henry J. Eyring would walk with his father a few short blocks to the Ricks College campus. Some mornings the duo would play a game of basketball or spend a few minutes running on the track. Other times they’d sit in his father’s office and illustrate what they had talked about in their scripture study that day. As the time for school approached, the young boy would leave his father’s office and walk the three blocks to Lincoln Elementary School. When lunchtime came, the young boy would often visit his father’s office again and would return again as school let out.
Nearly four decades later, President Eyring has been working as the university’s academic vice president and again visits the Rexburg campus daily. Although some buildings have changed, the familiarity of campus reminds him of his childhood, when he spent time with his father, President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency, as he led the small-town college in the 1970s.
President Henry J. Eyring followed in his father’s footsteps as he started his assignment as the 17th president of Brigham Young University-Idaho on April 10.
Announced by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during a campus devotional in February, the change comes as BYU-Idaho President Clark G. Gilbert assumed his role as president of the newly formed BYU-Pathway Worldwide.
“For me, [Rexburg] is a place of the richest possible family memories,” President Eyring said. “And, the essential aspects of it haven’t changed — it has only gotten better. … The interesting thing is I never even imagined going back. I was gone for 29 years and in 29 years I never passed through town.”
Named after his father, grandfather and his mother’s family, Henry Johnson Eyring was born in 1963 in Palo Alto, California. Born two years after his parents married, Henry is the oldest of Henry B. and Kathleen Johnson Eyring’s six children.
“The week of my birth, my maternal grandparents moved into what was at the time a relatively dilapidated, but very expansive, estate on a hilltop in Atherton, California,” he told the Church News. “My grandfather bought it as a fixer upper.”
At the time his father was teaching at Stanford University, and Sister Eyring’s father — who had moved from Vernal, Utah, to work on the Golden Gate Bridge — insisted they live on the property.
“The guest house still to this day is the largest house I have ever lived in,” said President Eyring. “I remember those idyllic days, especially in the summer. …
“But Mother had a strong feeling that it wasn’t the right place for us,” he said.
His father was giving “great Church service,” had gotten tenure at Stanford and was invested in several Silicon Valley startups “before there was such a thing.” Even though the family loved living on the hilltop, it was “a place of pressure.”
His mother asked, “Isn’t there something better for us?”
It was only a few weeks after his mother’s comment that his father sought out different employment options and within six months the Eyrings packed up their family and were on their way to another opportunity.
“That led to our moving … to Rexburg, Idaho, which none of us had ever seen, to a college town that was really small,” he said.
The seven years his family lived in Rexburg, only three short blocks from the Ricks College campus, were happy times, he said.
“I really grew up on that campus. And I spent the time with my father and the combination of those two things was just really in hindsight, miraculous. I don’t know whether I sensed the uniqueness at the time, but I certainly enjoyed it and got very, very close to Dad.”
When his father completed his time as president of Ricks College the family moved to Bountiful, Utah, so President Henry B. Eyring could serve as associate commissioner of Church Education. The younger Henry Eyring attended Bountiful High School, just north of Salt Lake City. As a senior, he met Kelly Child — a sophomore — at a back-to-school dance in 1980.
He served in the Nagoya Japan Mission from 1982 to 1984 and upon his return married Kelly in the Salt Lake Temple on Dec. 18, 1984. They are the parents of five children. He attended Brigham Young University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in geology in 1985 and later earned an MBA and law degree in 1989.
For the next decade Henry J. Eyring worked at the Monitor Group, a management-consulting firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During that time, he thought he should continue his education.
“As a young boy at a very young age I figured out that I had the same name as my father, who was at Stanford University, and the same name as my grandfather, who had been at Princeton and was a renowned scientist at the University of Utah, and so I had a sense that I ought to make something of myself.”
He decided to meet with Kim B. Clark, a fellow Latter-day Saint and professor at the Harvard Business School.
“I told him I thought I might like to get a doctor of business administration,” he said. “He asked me right back, ‘Why do you want to be a business scholar?’ ”
Professor Clark went on to describe the nature of his work and encouraged Henry J. Eyring to pursue more schooling, “only if it was an absolute passion.”
“I was really, really enjoying my work as a management consultant,” he said. “Then-Professor Kim Clark convinced me that I didn’t want to be an academic, and he was right. I knew, in less than one hour with him … I wasn’t going to be a scholar. That was the summer of 1988 and I never saw him again for 17 years.”
In addition to his consulting business, Henry J. Eyring’s career included work as director of SkyWest Airlines and in the Marriott School of Management as director of BYU’s MBA program from 1998 to 2002. Then he was called to preside over the Japan Tokyo North Mission from 2003 to 2006.
While it was natural to want to focus on the number of convert baptisms in the mission, President Henry J. Eyring said it was humbling for him to focus on what the Lord wanted him to do.
“I found as a mission president that much as I wanted to grow the Church through convert baptisms, above all what I wanted to do was retain missionaries and members and strengthen them,” he said.
With no employment in place to come home to, President Eyring started putting feelers out for when he returned from his mission. When talking to two of his brothers, they both independently from each other encouraged him to meet with Kim B. Clark, the man he had met briefly almost two decades earlier and who had recently been named the president of BYU-Idaho.
While continuing his search in speaking with business associates, unaware of the answers of others, a handful of them encouraged President Henry J. Eyring to “talk to Kim Clark.”
Although he hadn’t ever planned to return to the Rexburg campus, with enough encouragement, he decided to reach out to then-President Clark.
Recognizing President Clark’s impressive academic background, President Henry J. Eyring was concerned about the future of BYU-Idaho, and wrote President Clark — who would later become a General Authority Seventy — an unsolicited memo detailing why he thought BYU-Idaho should not become a university focused on research and publishing.
“Thirty-six hours later a reply came back from this fellow I had only met once in my life and he said, ‘Henry, as I read your memo, it felt as though you’d been in my head all summer long.’ ”
Delighted at a job prospect working with President Clark at BYU-Idaho, President Eyring made plans to move to Rexburg with his family. Three of his children have graduated from the university, and his two youngest children are now in high school.
In the 11 years he has been employed at BYU-Idaho, he has worked as the academic vice president, an associate academic vice president for online learning and instructional technology and as advancement vice president. He has also taught courses, authored books, served as a trustee of Southern Utah University and, at the time of his appointment as BYU-Idaho’s president, was an adjunct fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Although he looks and sounds a great deal like his father, shares the same name as his father and grandfather, and will now share the title of “President Eyring” with his father, Henry J. Eyring has found his own path as he has tried to follow what the Lord has asked him to do — even when different than what he initially planned.
Whether it was deciding a career path, in his employment, as a mission president or in his new assignment as president of BYU-Idaho, the words of his mother, “Isn’t there something better for us?” has guided Henry J. Eyring throughout his life.
“I’m grateful for the challenges that have come. I’m grateful for the bumps in my career path,” he said. “I’m grateful to have gone into a mission field where I didn’t feel like I ‘cracked the code,’ and I’m grateful to have come to a university where it is not about comparative success.”
[email protected] @marianne_holman