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Two of the most successful businessmen ever to graduate from the University of Montana will receive honorary doctorates during commencement ceremonies Saturday, May 17.

Terry Payne, founder of Terry Payne & Co. Inc., a Missoula-based independent insurance agency, will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. John “Jack” Poe, former CEO and chairman of the Semtech in Camarillo, Calif., a semiconductor company, will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Business. Gov. Steve Bullock will be the commencement speaker.

Payne earned a bachelor’s degree from UM in 1963 (magna cum laude). He started his Missoula insurance agency in 1972, parts of which evolved into Payne Financial Group. His company recently acquired Western States Insurance to form PayneWest Insurance, the largest privately owned insurance agency in the western U.S. and a top-10 insurance agency nationally. Payne is chairman of the board for PayneWest, which serves 30 communities in four states.

Payne also was a director of many Washington Corp. entities and served as director of First Interstate BancSystem Inc. He formerly served as director and regional vice president of the National Association of Surety Bond Producers.

Payne and his family were the primary financial backers for The Payne Family Native American Center, a signature UM building completed in 2010 that provides a centralized home for Native American studies, American Indian Student Services and related programming. He and his family then provided further support for the Elouise Cobell Land and Culture Institute in the garden level of the Payne Center, which is under construction. The new institute will provide technology for teaching geographic information systems and interacting with indigenous people worldwide. It also will house a theater for film studies and a technology-rich classroom.

Annually, Payne funds several scholarships, including a Presidential Scholarship, the Don McGonigle Memorial Scholarships and the Elouise Cobell Memorial Scholarship.

In 2006, Payne was honored with UM’s Distinguished Alumni Award. He received the Neil Bucklew Presidential Service Award in 2008. He is a trustee emeritus of the UM Foundation, and he served on the steering committee for the last two UM Foundation capital campaigns.


Poe is a native of Medicine Lake in northeast Montana. He earned two degrees from UM: an undergraduate in accounting in 1973 and a Master of Business Administration in 1974. He then worked for 10 years at Fairchild Camera and Instruments, serving both abroad and in Silicon Valley.

In 1985, he became CEO of Semtech, a California semiconductor manufacturer. The company’s technology is used in everything from cellphones, computers and flat-screen TVs to medical instruments and satellites. Semtech had failed to post a profit for four years, but under Poe’s leadership – focused on diversification and research and development – the company landed on Fortune magazine’s list of 100 fastest growing companies in 1996. From 1992 to 2002, Semtech was the leading gainer on NASDAQ, increasing its value by more than 12,000 percent.

Poe was Semtech CEO until 2003. He chaired the company’s board of directors from 1998 to 2006. He eventually stepped away to spend more time growing berries and avocados on the family ranch in Somis, Calif.

Poe has made multiple gifts to the UM School of Business Administration to create the Poe Family Professorship in Entrepreneurship, the Poe Family Faculty Fellowship in Business, the Poe Family Scholarships and the Poe Family Opportunity Fund. He was named the Outstanding Alumnus for the School of Business Administration in 2006.

The son and brother of two UM-trained pharmacists, Poe also has made substantial gifts to the College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, including a key donation for an addition to the Skaggs Building and establishing the Poe Family Scholarship in Pharmacy.

​Reach the Missoulian newsroom at @missoulian, at or at (406) 523-5240

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