In memoriam: Jeff Thomas

CMU Entrepreneurship Department was his startup.

| Author: Aaron Mills

​Jeff Thomas, chair and professor in Central Michigan University's Entrepreneurship Department, passed away Tuesday, Oct. 12, after a battle with cancer. He was 52.

Thomas came to CMU in 2016 as chair of the fledgling entrepreneurship program, coordinating its design, staffing and launch. He recruited nationally recognized scholars and Emmy award-winning entrepreneur Louis Foreman to teach in the program.

He revised the entrepreneurship minor to be accessible to all CMU students and launched an entrepreneurship certificate program for students in other disciplines. He also implemented CMU's Master of Entrepreneurial Ventures degree, ranked No. 1 in the nation by study. com and No. 9 by

Thomas also was instrumental in building department-level support for the New Venture Competition and related programming.

"Jeff Thomas had an incredible ability to bring the best out of others," said David Nows, assistant professor of entrepreneurship. "Whether it was a student competing in our New Venture Competition or a new faculty member navigating the job for the first time, Jeff knew how to inspire confidence in everyone with whom he worked."  

Jeff Thomas

Chris Moberg, dean of the College of Business Administration, agreed. "During my 30-year career, I don't think I have met anyone that better exemplifies servant leadership more than Jeff," Moberg said. "He was exceptionally talented and an innovative higher ed leader and teacher, mentoring and supporting his students, colleagues, and peers while building and delivering meaningful impact for our college and community.

"Importantly, Jeff was relentlessly positive, empathetic, humble, and always deflected credit from himself to others for accomplishments in the department and college. He will be missed, but he left a legacy that will serve others for years to come."

As a professor, Thomas drew upon his professional contacts to bring entrepreneurial leaders from across the country to speak on CMU's campus, keynote the New Venture Competition and build enthusiasm for business startups.                                                               

"He was so much more than a mere colleague," said Charles Crespy, CBA dean emeritus. "Jeff had a contagious smile, boundless optimism and a work ethic that was second to none. He was a resource for those with ethical and legal conundrums. He was perhaps CMU's most enthusiastic cheerleader. He was an inspiration to ambitious and aspiring young faculty. Without preaching, he served as a model of leadership."

Before coming to CMU, Thomas was chair of the Business School at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, North Carolina. He also designed and launched entrepreneurship and small-business programs at Belmont Abbey College and Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Thomas earned his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Michigan Business School and his Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School. Before law school, he rose to the rank of senior financial analyst at an American Express subsidiary. The Harvard Business Law Review Online published his articles on crowdfunding and venture capital valuations.

He also worked as an attorney in Chicago and Silicon Valley, where he advised clients on business formations, angel investments, venture capital financings and intellectual property matters. He also founded an internet company that helped attorneys seeking alternative careers.

Thomas is survived by his wife, Mary, and daughter, Emma, along with extended family, friends and colleagues.

View latest news