When most people think of Go Daddy, they’re more likely to think of its racy Super Bowl ads (which actually won’t happen this year) than its commitment to U.S. military veterans.
But that’s where they’re mistaken.
Bob Parsons, the founder and executive chairman of the web-hosting giant, is cutting the ribbon today on a new veterans center at the University of Baltimore, his alma mater. The Bob Parsons Veterans Center aims to offer academic advising, guidance on financial aid and counseling to veterans at the university.
For Parsons, the $1 million he donated to fund the project is not just generous, but deeply personal. After all, he understands better than anyone how important resources are to veterans transitioning to civilian life: Parsons enlisted in the Marines at age 17, heading to Vietnam straight out of high school. During his two-year tour, Parsons received the Combat Action Ribbon, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and Purple Heart Medal.
Despite the injuries he suffered, Parsons attributes his business success to his time in the military. “Because of the Marine Corps, I learned how to focus. They taught me how to handle responsibility and they taught me how to carry out responsibility,” says Parsons. “They taught me discipline.”
Returning from Vietnam, Parsons worked for a year in a Baltimore steel mill before attending the University of Baltimore on the G.I. Bill. Prior to his service, Parsons was a less than stellar student – he failed the fifth grade and was concerned he wouldn’t graduate high school prior to enlisting. At the University of Baltimore, Parsons thrived, graduating magna cum laude.
“I owe it entirely to the Marines, because they instill that sense of responsibility with me,” he says. “With that I was an entirely different guy.”
Parsons’ accounting degree – which he chose simply because it was the first on his list of options – allowed him to work closely with established entrepreneurs. Working with other businesses, Parsons took note of what entrepreneurs succeeded and why others failed. When he founded Parsons Technology, a software company, in 1984, Parsons’ careful attention paid off. Ten years later, Intuit bought the company for $64 million dollars, and Parsons founded Go Daddy.
While Parsons has thrived, he is the first to admit that transitioning to civilian life is not easy. The Marines and University of Baltimore made him the entrepreneur he is today, he says, but not without the challenges faced by every veteran.
“Many veterans who have served in combat situations and come back–you’re changed forever.”
Conditions such as PTSD often serve to isolate veterans, hampering their ability to transition to civilian society. With PTSD or traumatic brain injury affecting approximately one in five veterans, an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide daily.
These emotional struggles are often coupled with financial hardship, as veterans search for careers in a difficult job market. The veteran unemployment rate 6.5 percent. For post-9/11 veterans, the rate is significantly higher, at 10.1 percent.
Parsons attempts to ease these transitions through his charitable donations and in the efforts of Go Daddy. Parsons has employed and worked closely with other veterans in his company. Investment firm KKR, which was part of the private-equity consortium that bought Go Daddy in 2011, actively recruits and hires veterans through its Vets @ Work program. Go Daddy also offers counseling for veteran employees.
Recruiting veterans is a no-brainer for Parsons. “A veteran is going to do a wonderful job because he or she understands responsibility and the need to follow through on what they say they’re going to do and what they’re asked to do,” he says.
Parsons also works with the Semper Fi Fund, donating a collective $2.8 million through The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation. The Semper Fi Fund provides immediate financial assistance as well as long-term support for injured and critically ill members of the military.
For veterans following Parsons’ footsteps at the University of Baltimore, Parsons hopes to ease the transition with the new veterans center. Parsons’ gift to the university will also help launch the Parsons Veterans Psychology Clinic, which will specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and research of veteran-related issues such as PTSD, and the Veterans Law Clinic, focusing on veteran’s legal issues.
“These are men and women who have agreed to place themselves in extreme danger, in harm’s way, and they did it for us,” he says. “They shouldn’t be forgotten.”
Kate Taylor is a staff writer for Entrepreneur.com.