Jeff Bush – Armstrong Alumnus has Life-Changing Classroom Encounter

At 33, Jeff Bush (‘13), president of The Parker Companies in Savannah, is one of the youngest company presidents in the country. If that isn’t remarkable enough, he accomplished the feat in just seven years, working his way up from director of fuel operations in 2012, to chief operating officer two years ago, to president in January — an unparalleled feat at the almost billion-dollar company.

If you ask him how he achieved this stunning success, he’ll tell you it began with simply raising his hand in class.

While it may sound easy, Bush’s success wasn’t handed to him. He grew up extremely poor, one of seven brothers living with their father in a trailer in Lewes, Delaware, a small, coastal town with only 2,900 people. What he lacked in resources, however, he gained in work ethic, a value his father instilled in him early on.

Bush built two successful businesses by the time he’d finished high school, and says he thought the rest of his life would be spent as an entrepreneur. After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, however, he left his businesses and family, and volunteered to join the fight.

“It completely changed my perspective on life,” said Bush. “And it was, ‘Okay, there’s a higher calling here for me and I need to go serve.’ And so I joined the Army.”

Bush served in the Army for seven years as a forward observer, directing artillery and mortar fire. He served two tours in Iraq and won numerous awards and citations, including NCO of the year at Fort Stewart and the prestigious General Aubrey “Red” Newman Award for Leadership Excellence. While on his second tour, Bush decided to pursue officer training through the “green to gold” track, and enrolled at Armstrong.

“In 2010 I left Iraq and within two weeks I was actually sitting in a classroom,” he said.

Though an injury forced Bush to end his military career, he threw himself into his studies. He found a mentor in Richard McGrath, Ph.D., professor of economics, who pushed him not only to excel in his coursework but also to get involved outside of class. He became the advertising manager for The Inkwell, was the president of the Economics Club, and worked with Michael Toma, Ph.D., professor of economics, on the quarterly Coastal Empire Economic Monitor, a highly respected business forecast for the region.

It was the Economics Club that provided Bush with his life-changing opportunity. The club invited Greg Parker, Parker’s founder, then-President and CEO to campus. During his speech, he invited students to interrupt him and ask questions. For Bush, the invitation was almost like a challenge.

“And I kept raising my hand and kept raising my hand and kept raising my hand,” said Bush. “And I’m looking around and no one else is raising their hand, and I’m going, ‘You guys are crazy! I mean, here’s one of the most successful people in our area. How are you not just constantly barraging him with questions?’”

Parker was impressed with Bush’s intellect, curiosity and hunger for learning. And when the position of director of fuel operations opened up at the company, he offered him the job.

“I think a strength of mine is being able to recognize talent and develop talent,” said Parker. “And I saw him as an incredibly talented college student.”

At Parker’s, Bush has led a number of initiatives, including the District Manager Development Program and several community outreach projects. Throughout his seven years with the company, he continued to raise his hand.

“The one thing about our company is, if you raise your hand and say, ‘Let me try something,’ we pretty much let you do it,” said Parker. “And he kept raising his hand.”

As president, Bush says he plans to invest in his team, giving them the same mentoring and guidance that he received from professors and from Parker — invaluable learning experiences which he attributes to his success. He also plans to expand upon Parker’s vision, bringing stores into a wider region, and expanding the company’s outreach in Savannah and southeast Georgia. He says Georgia Southern is a natural part of that plan.

“Georgia Southern is not only where we do business, it’s our customers, it’s our employees. It’s our current community and it’s our future community,” he said.

– Doy Cave