Faculty / February 21, 2020

Leaving Industry and Finding Something More

Adams B. Steven, Assistant Professor of Supply Chain Management

Adams Steven’s career began with a test. “In countries like Sierra Leone, you don’t really choose where you work, but you hope you get the job,” he says. “It’s not uncommon to see people with, say, physics degrees, working with you.”

In his case, he had an economics degree. He took an exam which earned him employment at shipping giant Maersk, in his home country of Sierra Leone. Soon after, he was immersed in supply chain management, managing the complex web of shipping and port operations for the company. And he realized how much he enjoyed it.

“I just forgot about economics,” he says. “I just continued to work in shipping.”

Steven knew, however, he would want to gain more knowledge, so eventually he went to pursue his PhD in something related to transportation and logistics. His interest lay in maritime and operations quality. He was accepted to Maryland Smith for his doctorate. His original plan was to go back into industry with his degree. “The one problem I always had [at Maersk] was productivity — how to get ships in and out,” he says. His objective was to examine that area. While in school, however, he realized there was much more he could do beyond industry work.

For one thing, “Back home, you don’t talk to your professors,” he recalls. But he had very different relationships with his professors at Smith — relationships in which he could converse freely and seek guidance on his career and research. One professor helped him find consulting work with the Port of Baltimore, where he used his research and experience. That work became part of his dissertation. “It was completely different.” Steven liked the relationships he forged with his professors at Smith and decided he wanted to work with students.

He also realized how much he had learned during his PhD and wished he had that kind of research training before he began at Maersk. Since then, however, he’s expanded his research into more areas, particularly in quality in goods and services, such as toy recalls in China; service disruptions and their effects on global supply chains and transportation flows.

After graduating, he became an assistant professor of operations management at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. “Working with students is completely different,” he says. “You can bond with them. They become like family.” After four years, Maryland Smith invited him to come back — this time as a professor.

Today, he is an assistant professor of supply chain management in the logistics business and public policy department at Maryland Smith. He enjoys applying his real-world experiences to his classroom, something his students will point out to him. “Students have said, this is different from in the textbook. I tell them, ‘When you go out there, it’s a little different from what you see in the textbook,’” he says. “It’s helped me to teach.”

–By Rin-rin Yu

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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 flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, 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.

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