Veteran Small Business Advocate Featured

9:42am EDT July 22, 2002

It’s really no secret why Ronald Zola would care to devote the remainder of his career to helping veterans of the American armed forces. After all, who wouldn’t, after devoting 25 years to the military himself.

Zola entered the Army in 1967 and spent most of his military career as an infantry officer in places including Vietnam and Germany before serving as Inspector General for Fort Carson and the Fourth Infantry Division. Ultimately, he wound up in Pittsburgh as Combat Arms Division Chief for Readiness Group Pittsburgh.

After spending most of his adult life serving in the military, he says he wasn’t quite ready to give it all up for a different life. So he joined the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program in 1993 as its program director. Two years later, he became its executive director.

The agency, which, contrary to its name, serves all military veterans, provides job counseling for men and women trying to find work after military service.

“We’re a facilitator —– we have names, numbers and contacts,” says Zola. “I think helping people is my passion.”

While the organization spends much of its time trying to determine the job skills and desires of its clients, many of them hope to start their own businesses, Zola says. He says roughly 30 percent of small businesses are owned by veterans, and he spends much of his time linking vets with agencies such as the Small Business Administration to connect them with business advice and financing.

“And what do they do?” Zola asks, referring to those who start their own businesses. “They go out, start their businesses and they need employees, so they come to us for veterans. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Daniel Bates