Jeff Adams: Bridging science and business

Jeff Adams (MBA 2004), a San Francisco Bay area regional ambassador for the Foster School and an environmental engineer, locked onto his future career the day he received his first Lego set when he was five years old. From then on, his perceptive parents began filling his Christmas stockings with Erector sets, Tinkertoys and more Lego pieces. Many years later, he would marry that knack for the science of building things with the power of business knowledge.

“The best scientists in the world can find a way to clean up the environment, but it’s how we marry social responsibility with business viability that makes the effort sustainable long term,” Adams said in a recent interview.

First, though, came Adams’ education in engineering.

Designing and building structures with the little plastic blocks had him so hooked as a child that by the time he entered college he knew his calling was to be a civil engineer. During his time as an undergraduate studying civil engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, however, he strayed from the typical civil engineering curriculum when he discovered his additional desire for environmental engineering. After completing his BS, MS and PhD, Adams figured that he had lived through one too many winters in Chicago and could not resist the California sunshine … as well as several environmental engineering opportunities.

After three years in San Francisco, he decided to leave work and move up to Seattle to get an MBA. Graduates of Foster and other UW alumni always impressed Adams and the reputation of excellence at Foster combined with its location in Seattle swayed his decision to study here. He added that the best business concept he was taught at Foster can be summed up in a phrase: the Three-Legged Stool. That is—coursework, professional and personal development.

Adams said the pursuit of technical excellence and acquired skills is, of course, important, “but as important are the activities that build your personal and professional networks.” And that is exactly what he did at Foster. While serving as president of his MBA class, he built a strong network of “amazing” peers and colleagues who “collaborated, learned together, and came to know each other’s strengths.”

After graduating from Foster, Adams continued combining his passion for protecting the environment with business acumen. When discussing business and engineering, he often cites the “triple bottom line” – a balance among people, planet, and profit. He goes into each project with these three guiding principles: “What are the risks? How do we mitigate these risks? And, how do we mitigate those risks cost effectively so that we can have a viable redevelopment?” As an Associate at ENGEO Incorporated in San Ramon, California, Adams has found a way to use his time and talent not only to “save the planet,” but to build hospitals, levees, schools and bridges that benefit families, communities and society.