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Meet 2023 Luminary Award Recipient Jay Laabs ’98

As a teenager in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, Jay Laabs thought his professional path was all mapped out.

Jay Laabs ’98

UW Majors: Finance, Investment and Banking
Founder and CEO, Spaulding Ridge

As a teenager in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, Jay Laabs thought his professional path was all mapped out. He would attend UW–Madison and enter law school just like his father, attorney and circuit court judge Gerald Laabs JD’69. And then he’d return home to Jackson County to serve the community alongside his dad.

Yet it didn’t take long at the UW for Laabs to realize he wanted to chart a very different course for himself. He credits an unusual class in the Wisconsin School of Business as being the site of his personal epiphany: Analysis of Financial Statements. “That course really changed things for me,” he says. “It all clicked.”

What clicked specifically was a talent for finance, along with a passion for technology. After graduating, Laabs took a job at a small financial software company, where he learned the technology business and gained experience interacting with clients. At age 29, he founded his own consulting company, Blue Stone, which sold in 2013 for $30 million.

At the time, Laabs thought the sale marked the beginning of his early retirement. But after accompanying his mother on a volunteer service trip to Nicaragua, Laabs reconnected with his parents’ values and their commitment to making the world a better place. “I believe business can be a force for good,” Laabs says. His mom, a social worker, suggested he start something new and “build things the right way.”

In 2018 Laabs launched Spaulding Ridge, a global business-technology consultancy focused on cloud computing solutions. The company is uniquely dedicated to people and personal connections. Its 500 employees, who are based around the world, commit to annual volunteer service in their local communities. Laabs refers to them as “bandmates,” in a conscious attempt to foster a culture of working collectively toward something greater via listening, collaboration, hard work, practice, adjustment, and accountability. This teamwork and camaraderie even spill over into a literal band for the Chicago office, where Laabs plays bass for the weekly Thursday-night office jams.

The result, so far, has been a hit. Since its founding, Spaulding Ridge has consistently been named one of the top workplaces in the consulting industry. The company’s leadership has also leaned into larger conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and has implemented hiring practices to intentionally diversify the company as it grows.

“We talk a lot about our values here, and that all business is personal,” says Laabs. “That comes from my dad, who always talked about how what he was doing during the week had a real impact on people’s lives.”

Laabs is based out of the company’s Chicago office, which dedicates their volunteer efforts to the local food bank. Laabs is also personally involved in needs-based scholarships to UW–Madison for women and minority students who are from hometowns like his. “Tech can be the great equalizer if you can learn to leverage it,” he says. “If you’re smart and willing to work hard, tech can help you move to the front of the line.”

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