On Campus

Oct 14, 2011 2:09 PM by Erin Yeykal

'My goal is to die poor' - Alumnus, business owner comments on $25 million gift to MSU for College of Business

"My goal is to die poor."

That's what Montana State University alumnus Jake Jabs told dozens of people who crammed inside a second floor room at the school's Foundation & Alumni Center. Jabs moved one step closer to that goal this morning when he announced he was giving $25 million to the school's College of Business. It is the largest private gift made in the history of Montana higher education.

"What I'm trying to do is...share it with other people," he elaborated.

The school hopes to use the money to construct a building for the College of Business. If approved by the Montana Board of Regents and the Montana Legislature, ground could be broken on the estimated $18 to $20 million building in the spring of 2013. The school says it will also use some of the money for new scholarships and academic programs in entrepreneurship, professional skills development and fostering cooperative work between business students and other students in other disciplines at the school.

"Hopefully, what this entrepreneurship school will do is energize the college," Jabs said.

"The business school, I hope it has one room with one thing in it, and that's a fire. A fire, because in life, in business, it's a fire in the belly that gets you there," Gov. Brian Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer was one of several people in attendance at the announcement.

"I just feel like I'm on a Rocky Mountain high," Montana Commissioner of Higher Education Sheila Stearns said.

"We've been dreaming of this day for a very, very long time," Susan Dana, MSU College of Business interim dean, said.

Jabs, who grew up on a farm in Lodge Grass with no running water, electricity or indoor plumbing then went on to graduate from what was then Montana State College, is the president and CEO of American Furniture Warehouse.

While his family grew up poor, his parents encouraged their children to get a college education. Jabs said his parents gave their children $50 to register for college and the rest was up to them. In college, he played in the Montana State band and joined the ROTC. When he graduated, he pursued several careers, including music and business, before opening a high-end furniture store in 1968. Five years later he closed the business, and in 1975 he purchased a struggling furniture business, renaming it American Furniture Warehouse. Today, American Furniture Warehouse is one of the top retail furniture companies in the U.S. with sales topping $300 million annually and 1,500 employees throughout Colorado.

"I never went into business to make money," Jabs said. Making money was just a byproduct of giving value and service to customers, he added.

Jabs said he hopes to encourage other alumni to donate as well. Schools are running out of money, he said.

"Hopefully, I'm not the only one who will do it," he said.

This is not the first time Jabs gave a sizeable gift to the school. Last year, he gave $3 million to the MSU College of Business for the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship for the New West. He said he decided to give more after seeing the enthusiasm that gift created and the good it was doing.

When asked where the new building would be located and if it would be named for Jabs, MSU President Waded Cruzado said, at this point, today, the school is just enjoying Jabs' announcement.

"This moment we are just relishing," she said.

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