John Pappajohn

horatio alger award

1995 Horatio Alger Awardee
John Pappajohn

The Forum

The son of Greek immigrants, John Pappajohn began working at the age of eight; he collected metal scraps and mechanical parts to sell to junkyards. He works today as the president of a venture capitalist firm renowned for its success in the health care arena.

Raised in Mason City, Iowa, John assumed much of the responsibility for his two younger brothers and mother with the death of his father when John was just 15. John worked in the small family grocery store and later, as a butcher to put his brothers through college. John first attended Northern Iowa Community College and then transferred to the University of Iowa, earning a degree in commerce.

After college, he returned to Mason City to start his own insurance agency. Shortly thereafter, he became co-founder and vice president of Guardsman Life Insurance Company. Although the business was thriving, Mr. Pappajohn sold his interest in the company in order to launch a much less certain career as a venture capitalist.

He launched Equity Dynamics, Inc., a firm that has founded more than 25 companies. Mr. Pappajohn regards business and investment not as primarily an exchange of goods and services, but as a process of human contact and interchange, where the more you give of yourself, your knowledge, your attention and your enthusiasm, the more you and those you support receive personally and financially. John clearly demonstrated his conviction to this philosophy when in 1985, he invested in a struggling health care company, and found himself too involved in other matters to personally assist the company. When the company was sold for a substantial profit a few years later, Mr. Pappajohn returned his share of the proceeds to the owners because he felt he had not contributed to the success of the company and therefore had not earned his portion of the money.

Mr. Pappajohn’s generous philanthropic ventures are as well known as his business talents. He is a particular friend to education, not only serving on the board of the University of Iowa Foundation, but also becoming one of the college’s foremost benefactors. He contributed more than $1 million to start a clinical cancer center, $3 million for a wing of the university hospital, and $4 million for the business administration building. Mr. Pappajohn also has been an active supporter of the Boys Clubs of America and in 1974 was named Big Brother of the Year in recognition of his years of service to that organization.

Horatio Alger Society


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