John Pappajohn was born in Greece. John and his mother immigrated to Iowa when he was 9 months old to join his father, who was a U.S. citizen. After graduation from Mason City high school and the University of Iowa, John Pappajohn started his own insurance business. In 1962, he moved to Des Moines and organized the Guardsman Life Insurance Company (a public company), where he was chairman of the board from 1962 to 1969. In 1969, he sold his interest and became a venture capitalist. John organized Equity Dynamics Inc. in 1969, and continues as its president today. He also founded Pappajohn Capital Resources (a venture capital fund primarily investing in high tech, medical, and healthcare projects) in that same year. John’s portfolio of companies has averaged a 40% annual return on investments over the last 40 years.
As a successful entrepreneur and generous philanthropist, John Pappajohn has been recognized by many national organizations. Beta Gamma Sigma awarded Pappajohn a National Medallion for Entrepreneurship in 1997. In 1995, he was named a Horatio Alger Award recipient, and he currently serves as a member of the Horatio Alger Association Board of Directors. He is also on the board of the University of Iowa Foundation. He previously served on the board of Pine Manor College, Chestnut Hill, Mass. He has been a member of several boards of the Kennedy Center on a continuous basis for more than 24 years. He is the recipient of four Honorary Doctorate degrees. He is also vice chairman of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. He is the first Iowan to receive the National Philanthropist of the Year for the Arts. He and his wife Mary are listed as one of the top 200 art collectors in the world by Art News Magazine for years 1998 to 2014.
John and Mary Pappajohn were awarded the Iowa State University Honorary Alumnus/Alumna Award in 2005, and John was awarded the John Hughes Award for Entrepreneurial Advocacy from the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship in 2009.
John and Mary Pappajohn have gifted over $100 million to various philanthropic causes, including at the University of Iowa, to support the John Pappajohn Business Building, the Pappajohn Pavilion, the John and Mary Pappajohn Cancer Center, and the John and Mary Pappajohn Biomedical Research Building. Mr. Pappajohn organized and contributed greater than $30 million to establish the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers at five different universities and colleges in the state of Iowa, including Iowa State University, to promote job creation in the state. John and Mary Pappajohn established a scholarship fund for ethnic, disadvantaged, and minority students and have granted more than $4 million in scholarships. They have provided close to $750,000 in awards in Iowa for students and entrepreneurs participating in the annual Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Venture Competitions. The Pappajohns have contributed to the Des Moines Art Center and the National Gallery of Art. In 2007, they donated $30 million in sculptures to the Des Moines Art Center to create a new public art space. The Pappajohn Sculpture Park is now open to the public on 4.4 acres in downtown Des Moines’ Western Gateway Park.
John Pappajohn continues to be active in promoting and supporting entrepreneurship in Iowa and across the globe.