By Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service
A Montana State University alumnus announced today that he will
give an unrestricted $25 million gift to MSU’s College of Business. It is
the largest private gift made in the history of the Montana higher education
The gift is being made by Jake Jabs, who grew up on a farm near Lodge Grass,
Mont., in a home with no indoor plumbing, electricity or running water.
Today, Jabs is president and CEO of American Furniture Warehouse based in
Denver, one of the largest retail furniture companies in the United States.
“Thanks to his generosity, Mr. Jabs’ visionary gift will benefit generations
of students to come,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “On behalf of all of
us at MSU, I would like to offer Mr. Jabs our most sincere and heartfelt
thanks and appreciation.”
As part of a comprehensive strategic plan for the College of Business,
Cruzado said she will seek approval from the Montana Board of Regents and
the Montana Legislature to
construct a new building for the College of Business on the campus of
Montana State in Bozeman.
“Mr. Jabs’ gift provides us with the necessary financial strength and
flexibility to begin to advance our College of Business,” Cruzado said. “A
new building is a necessary first step. We have a bold plan for the future
of the College of Business – for it to be one of the best in the nation —
and Mr. Jabs’ gift will get us started. We hope others will join us in
building the best program possible for our students and the state. Imagine
what we can do together.”
If approved, ground could be broken on the estimated $18 million to $20
million building in the spring of 2013 with completion in 2015.
The gift will also be used for new scholarships and new academic programs
in: entrepreneurship, professional skills development and fostering
cooperative work between business students and students in other
disciplines, such as engineering, the sciences, agriculture, graphic arts
and the humanities.
Last year, Jabs made a $3 million gift to the MSU College of Business for
the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship for the New West.
“I hope my gifts inspire others to contribute to the future of
entrepreneurship education at MSU,” Jabs said. “So many of us in business
have been so well served by our education from Montana State, we should do
what we can to help the next generations be successful too.”
The fourth of nine children, Jabs and his siblings never thought of
themselves as poor, despite their circumstances, Jabs wrote in his
autobiography in 2000. Instead, his parents taught their children the
importance of self-confidence, the courage to take risks, the importance of
developing hobbies outside of work and caring about things other than money.
Jabs also credits his parents, who immigrated from Russia and Poland, for
providing him with a strong work ethic, and Jabs’ father — who had no formal
education beyond the second grade — shared with his children his belief that
education was essential.
“He said he felt left out because of his education,” Jabs said. “He wasn’t
able to get any education beyond the second grade in Poland and my mother
only went through the seventh grade. Both of them wanted their children to
get an education, and so my dad gave us enough money to start college.
“They believed it would open doors for us, give us opportunities we wouldn’t
have otherwise had — and they were right,” Jabs said. “Education gave me the
confidence to take risks, and taking risks is key to being successful.”
After graduating from high school in Hardin, Jabs enrolled at what was then
Montana State College and graduated with a degree in vocational agriculture
During his college years, he played with the Montana State band, was on the
MSU rodeo team, joined the ROTC, and took many elective courses, which he
said helped him explore a variety of subjects and ultimately helped him
pursue several different careers throughout his life, including music and
And, though his studies were focused on agriculture, his business instincts
and entrepreneurial spirit were evident even as a college student and young
adult. Jabs and one of his brothers worked their way through college doing
odd jobs and playing music. Later, after serving in the U.S. Air Force and
working as a musician in Nashville, Jabs returned to Bozeman, where he
bought a music store. He secured a loan from the bank to buy out his partner
in the store only after putting up as collateral cattle from his family’s
Jabs’ first serious venture into the furniture business came in 1968, when
he opened a high-end furniture store, Mediterranean Galleries, with
locations in Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Colo. and Billings. Five
years later, Jabs decided to close the business. Then, in 1975, he purchased
a struggling furniture business, renaming it American Furniture Warehouse.
Since then, American Furniture Warehouse has experienced remarkable growth
and expanded into a 12-store operation. Jabs, who is 80, remains responsible
for the day-to-day operations of the company and also oversees the company’s
team of buyers, often traveling to Asia on purchasing trips.
Furniture Warehouse is one of the top retail furniture companies in the U.S.
and is the largest privately held businesses in Colorado, with sales topping
$300 million annually and 1,500 employees throughout Colorado.
Jabs, well-known in Colorado for his philanthropy, believes gifts to
education provide a great benefit for the future.
“My own life experience leads me to believe this is where my efforts can do
the most good,” Jabs said. “I think of all the students who might come from
circumstances like mine, and I want to help them.”
Susan Dana, the interim dean of the College of Business, said Jabs’ gift will help
the college overcome space, staffing and program constraints that it
“Our home in Reid Hall is holding us back from doing so many things,” Dana
said. “A new building would give us space for advising, classrooms and
one-on-one work with students. Additionally, adding new programs will help
us truly become a nationally recognized program and allow us to contribute
in important ways to economic development in Montana.”
The head of the MSU Alumni Foundation, the non-profit alumni and donor
relations arm of the university, also expressed appreciation for the gift.
“This is a very meaningful gift to Montana State University,” said Michael
Stevenson, president and CEO of the MSU Alumni Foundation. “In every way,
Mr. Jabs’ life is a testament to the value of public higher education. His
generous support of his alma mater will create endless opportunities for our
students, and for this we are most grateful.”