MSU's spring commencement ceremonies are scheduled for 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 5, at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. Jabs will receive the honorary doctorate during the 1:30 p.m. ceremony.
"Mr. Jabs is a remarkable individual," said MSU President Waded Cruzado. "This is the highest commendation MSU confers, and Mr. Jabs is very deserving of this recognition. His life, career and accomplishments are an inspiration to our faculty, students, staff and alumni. We are delighted to honor him in this way."
Jabs, 82, grew up on a farm near Lodge Grass, in a home with no indoor plumbing, electricity or running water. Today, he is president and CEO of American Furniture Warehouse based in Denver, one of the largest retail furniture companies in the U.S. and one of the largest privately held businesses in Colorado.
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.
After graduating from high school in Hardin, Jabs enrolled at what was then Montana State College, where he played with the band, was on the rodeo team and joined the ROTC. He graduated with a degree in vocational agriculture.
Though his studies were focused on agriculture, Jabs' business instincts and entrepreneurial spirit were evident as a college student and young adult. Jabs and one of his brothers worked their way through college doing odd jobs and playing music. 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 in 1955. Other business ventures followed, including the purchase of a furniture factory in Bridger, Mont., in 1968.
In 1968, Jabs also opened a high-end furniture store but closed the business five years later. In 1975, he purchased a struggling furniture business, renaming it American Furniture Warehouse. Since then, American Furniture Warehouse has expanded into a 12-store operation and experienced remarkable growth, with 1,400 employees throughout Colorado and sales topping $330 million in 2008.
Jabs' awards have included Furniture Today's 2007 Retailer of the Year; InFurniture's 2006 Retail All-Stars; Colorado Top Company Award, 2005; National Home Furnishing Association 2000 Retailer of the Year; Montana Small Business Person of the Year in 1981; and MSU's Alumni Achievement Award.
Jabs is well-known nationally for his philanthropy. Under Jabs' leadership, American Furniture Warehouse gives more than $2 million each year to more than 300 charities, including Muscular Dystrophy Association, Easter Seals Colorado, March of Dimes and Make-A-Wish Foundation.
In 2010, Jabs gave $3 million to the MSU College of Business for the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship for the New West, plus additional funds for scholarships for entrepreneurship students. Last fall, he announced an unrestricted gift of $25 million to the College of Business, $18 million of which will be used to plan and construct a new College of Business building. That gift - which is the largest private gift made in the history of the Montana higher education system - will also fund scholarships and new academic programs. Jabs has also hosted MSU students at his factory in Denver and regularly serves as a guest speaker in MSU business classes.
In a letter nominating him for the honorary doctorate, College of Business interim dean Susan Dana wrote that MSU students look up to Jabs.
"Students tell me that they want to be like Mr. Jabs not only because they want to be successful in business but perhaps more importantly because they respect his values, his integrity and his genuineness," Dana wrote. "He truly is a role model who reflects well upon Montana."
MSU annually confers doctorates on friends of the university to honor achievements and service to the state of Montana.
Contact: Susan Fraser or Shari McCoy, (406) 994-2341