Prof. Lemma Senbet Recognized for Scholarly,
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 philosophy 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 founding director of the Center
for 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. The nonprofit honored Senbetat an
event in Washington on May 27.
Senbet was most touched by the recognition of his community service. For the
past several years, he has been funding a library, youth educational initiatives
and a college scholarship program in the village where he was born.
“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.”
The youngest of six children, Senbet advanced quickly through school. He passed
a national exam to study at Haile Selassie I University and enrolled on a whim in
the new College of Business Administration. After graduating at the top of his class,
he left Ethiopia to complete an MBA program at the University of Calfornia, Los
Angeles. He then entered a doctoral program at SUNY Buffalo, intending to stay just
a year before returning home, but political upheaval in his birth country caused
Senbet to remain in the U.S. and finish his Ph.D. He landed a position at the University
of Wisconsin, Madison, where he began an illustrious career as a 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 its finance program to one of national prominence. For eight
years, Senbet led the department, which now stands among the world’s best.
Senbet has contributed to policy work with the World Bank, the International
Monetary Fund and the United Nations. He also lends his expertise to projects and
policy outreach in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa with a variety of institutions,
including the African Union.
“My professional achievements are something beyond my dreams,” he said.