Current Issue
(Fall 2005)

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A "Pension" for Success: Alumnus Adams Brings Business Skill to $12-billion Fund

David Adams, made his fortune consulting Fortune 500 companies on supply-chain-management software, selling cars on eBay, as well as running a real-estate management venture.

David Adams

In his early 40s, Adams was comfortable enough to retire.

But this spring came a call from Indiana's new governor, Mitch Daniels.

Daniels told Adams he needed a skilled manager—someone with business experience outside the public sector—to oversee the Indiana Public Employees' Retirement Fund, the state's $12 billion pension program that serves retired state employees.

"I had never worked in the public sector before and I didn't know Gov. Daniels," Adams says.

Adams is a Louisville native who grew up in the Highlands and graduated from St. Xavier High School in 1979. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees in industrial engineering from Speed School in 1985 and 1986 and is now on the department's board of advisors.

"I asked the governor why he wanted an industrial engineer to run a pension fund and he said, 'That's exactly why I want you running it; because the challenge is operational in nature."

Adams says it was his business resume that got the Governor's attention.

In the 1990s while employed with Dallas-based i2 Technologies, Inc., Adams helped develop the market for large-scale supply chain management systems. He spent two years in Brussels, Belgium, and his decisions had worldwide impact. In less than six years, Adams helped the company grow from $4 million in revenues to more than $1 billion.

"I had 20 years worth of experience compressed into six years," Adams says.

After the long hours and much time away from home, Adams decided in the late '90s to make a change.

"I had accomplished professionally everything I had wanted, but now I wanted to be closer to home with my wife Bonnie and my three kids."

One thing he hadn't done was build a business from scratch. So, he created two.

V-Trade was the first. Its specialty was selling cars on the Internet through eBay. From 2001 when he started it to 2003 when he sold the business, Adams sold more than $3 million worth of vehicles.

"The pre-owned car market is inefficient and people don't like the used-car experience. eBay is an efficient marketplace and has worldwide presence."

His second company was Estate Ventures, which allowed Adams to apply his sales and management skills to the brokering of real estate.

With this and other work experience behind him, Adams says he sees himself as "a perfect fit" with Indiana's pension fund.

"A fundamental question commonly asked is: Can people from private industry move into public life? And the answer is that leadership skills apply regardless of the organization."

Public and private pension funds across the country are under strain. Some are underfunded and unable to pay out the amounts promised to workers.

Indiana's fund is well funded at $12 billion, Adams says. But operationally he says the fund needs to do a better job in serving its members.

"I stress customer service in everything we do," he says. "We owe it to the people who have served the state."

"From a business standpoint we have a lot of work to do to stabilize the organization and provide the services demanded by customers. The question I put to my employees is: 'What can we do to provide that outstanding customer service?'"

Adams says the fund serves over 200,000 current and former Indiana employees. The challenges are immense.

"As an example of one service issue we face: On average it takes five months to process a retirement," he says. "It takes that much time for all the paperwork to be put in order, such as getting supporting documents we need from retiring workers, before they receive their first check."

"I know we can do better," he adds. "I want us to get to a point where a retiree experiences no interruption in payments."

Part of Adams' business plan to move the pension agency forward includes new expectations from his employees.

"I don't want people to just show up," he says. "Everybody has to take responsibility for delivering some part of the game plan. Don't come to me with a problem and then not propose any solutions."

Adams says he is a "people person focused on communication." Those qualities have brought him success, and he gives much credit to Speed School for helping him develop them.

"I believe what I learned in Speed at U of L helped me to open up my whole thought process in how to look at and analyze a problem and implement solutions. These skills and the communications skills I learned continue to serve me well today."

Local Kids Inspired to Engineer

High school students worked in teams in June to take apart and put together cordless drills as part of an "Introduction to Mechanical Engineering" session led by associate professor Ellen Brehob and professor Mike Day.

high school students
Below, left to right: Cara Bareis, a sophomore at Butler Traditional High School and Kameryn Lehring, a junior at Louisville Male High School took a team approach to assembling a cordless drill.

"The idea here is to give students a little hands-on practice to expose them to some basic mechanical engineering principles," says Brehob. "About half the students here have never handled a drill before. They can get an idea of how they work, how the gears work for instance, and learn about the multiple uses of a drill.

The exercise was part of the annual four-week INSPIRE program designed to expose area youth to the many facets of an engineering career. The daily sessions, held at Speed School and industrial sites, included introductions to roadway and bridge construction, rapid prototyping, computer engineering and bioengineering.

high school student
Michael McKissic, a freshman at DuPont Manual High School, preferred to tackle the task solo.

INSPIRE (Increasing Student Preparedness and Interests in the Requisites for Engineering) is free to students interested in science and math and is geared to female and minority students, who are traditionally underrepresented in engineering.

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