Prof. Lemma Senbet Recognized for Scholarly, Civic
Professor Lemma W. Senbet has advice for his students: “I tell them to always
do your best, wherever you are and whatever you are doing – you never know who
could be watching. One thing leads to another and you may end up someplace very
different from where you started. Situations are what you make of them.”
It is a mantra that has carried Senbet from a childhood in a small village in
Ethiopia to a position of prominence as a world-leading finance scholar. Senbet,
the William E. Mayer Chair Professor of Finance and director of the
Financial Policy at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of
Business, was recently recognized as a distinguished scholar, teacher and role
model by the Society of Ethiopians Established in Diaspora (SEED). The nonprofit
organization honored Senbet and three other individuals at an event in
Washington on May 27, 2012.
Senbet was recognized for “the rich and positive contributions [he has] made
by exemplifying the highest ideals and standards of our community, in
recognition of [his] inspiring academic and scientific excellence, for [his]
civic responsibilities, community service, demonstrated love of country and for
all of [his] distinctive and positive attributes,” wrote Melaku Lakew, chairman
Senbet said he was most touched by the recognition of his community service.
For the past several years, Senbet has been actively involved in giving back to
the village where he was born. He provided funding to establish a library in his
hometown and supports youth educational initiatives. He also started a college
scholarship program for high school graduates to help youth in the ways in which
he benefitted as a student.
“I consider myself – for a variety of totally random reasons – to be very
fortunate to be in the position I am today,” he said. “I come from the region of
the world that is very disadvantaged, and as I advance in my career and in my
life, I feel a sense of obligation to give back. I want to help nurture the
potential in others.”
was the youngest of six children. With his older brother as a role
model, he worked very hard and advanced quickly through school. He graduated
first in his high school class and was able to pass a competitive national exam
to study at Haile Selassie I University (HSIU). He enrolled in the university’s
newly launched College of Business Administration on a whim.
“In high school, I was interested in physics and planned to study
engineering. But when I got to campus to enroll, I saw a very long line for the
new business school, started by a group of American business schools. I decided
to try to get in and was accepted,” Senbet said.
Senbet wholeheartedly threw himself into the study of business and vowed to
work hard enough to earn the top spot in the class. Four years later, he had
achieved the goal: No. 1 in the business school and the Chancellor’s gold medal
from the Emperor. He decided to gain experience outside of Ethiopia and enrolled
in an MBA program at UCLA. After completing the accelerated program in a year,
he entered a PhD program at SUNY Buffalo, intending to stay for just a year
before returning to Ethiopia. But in that year, political upheaval in his birth
country sent Ethiopians fleeing and caused Senbet to stay put in the U.S. and
finish his doctorate. He landed a position at the University of Wisconsin,
Madison, where he began an illustrious career as a preeminent scholar of
corporate and international finance.
In 1990, Rudy Lamone, then dean of the business school, lured Senbet to the
University of Maryland to build the school’s finance program to one of national
prominence. Senbet led the department for eight years and it has emerged among
the top in the world for research in corporate finance and investments. He is
currently a founding director of the Center for Financial Policy, established in
2009 in response to the global financial crisis.
Senbet is internationally recognized for his widely cited contributions to
finance, which have appeared in the field’s top academic journals. He has
mentored numerous doctoral students who have gone on to such top positions as
dean of Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business and chief economist of the
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. And he has contributed to policy work
with the World Bank, the IMF, and the United Nations.
He also lends his professional expertise to projects and policy outreach in
Ethiopia and the rest of Africa with a variety of institutions, including the
African Union regarding trade and investment in Africa.
“Thanks to his encouragement and wise counsel we have succeeded to launch a
bank 64 percent of whose equity is owned by women, probably one of its kind,”
Meaza Ashenafi, founding chair of Enat Bank in Ethiopia, wrote of Senbet in an
Senbet didn’t even realize he had such a big impact on Ashenafi, but that
goes back to reasons he tells students to always work hard and be open to
whatever may come. “My professional achievements are something beyond my
About the Robert H. Smith School of Business
The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader
in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the
University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate,
full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, MS in business, PhD and executive
education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The
school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning
locations in North America and Asia.