8 a.m. with the Coffee Man

By Christine Cox | Fall 2014

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To say a college class changed your life is one thing. To say an 8 a.m. class that you couldn’t get out of ended up changing your life is completely different. And in page after page of thank-you letters to Chris Stevens (’74), adjunct management professor, students want to make sure he understands this difference.

Dear Professor Stevens, … Being put into your 8 a.m. class is one of the best things that has happened to me here at ND.
Dear Professor Stevens, … I do not think I will ever again be able to say I was excited to wake up on Mondays for an 8 a.m. class.
Dear Professor Stevens, … I tried my best to go every morning but it’s rough sometimes at 8 a.m., so I apologize for any absences. … Your class did not just teach me the principles of management, but also life itself.
Dear Professor Stevens, … You serve as a daily inspiration and reminder of what is good and right in this world. Through your teaching I believe I have already become a better person.
Dear Professor Stevens, … I will cherish the memories and miss those early 8 a.m.s with the Coffee Man.

The return of the Coffee Man A.K.A. Hawk

This early morning gratitude seems as unlikely as the Coffee Man teaching at Notre Dame in the first place. 

He left a business career that was beyond successful. Stevens helped develop and launch Keurig Premium Coffee Systems, a pioneer in what has become an industry of single-serve coffee options. In the first day or two of his classes, Stevens shares the story of how he downsized the comfortable life of his family near Boston to invest in Keurig. He had already built a successful career with such corporate giants as Procter & Gamble and Anheuser-Busch. 

Of course, the Keurig risk paid off. Since launching in 1998, it has become a $5 billion corporation and a ubiquitous household brand. 

Yet, Stevens decided to retire in May 2013 as vice president of corporate relations in order to focus exclusively on teaching. He had started teaching an MBA course in the Interterm Intensive graduate sessions at Mendoza College in 2009, traveling to campus for the break weeks in fall and winter. He loved it. 

In 2012, he accepted a full-time adjunct position and commuted that year from Massachusetts to teach. His courses included Business Problem Solving and Change Management for MBA students, and Business Problem Solving and Principles of Management for undergraduates. With such a demanding schedule, Stevens eventually decided he needed to live in South Bend full time to devote the time he wanted to his students. So he and his wife, Trice, moved from Boston before the start of the 2013-14 academic year. Stevens had already owned a townhouse that’s about a 10-minute walk from the stadium.

“Hey, I’m not a greedy guy,” he says. “I’ve got enough to be able to support my family. And I once heard you should have two careers in life: one until age 60 and one from 60 on. Last year, at the age of 61, it seemed perfect to change direction.”

Big guy, big heart

Stevens is a big guy. Not just tall—he stands 6-foot, 6-inches—but big-voiced like a broadcast announcer. When he first started appearing around Mendoza as a faculty member instead of a guest speaker, most people knew him as the Keurig executive. Some may have known Stevens from his basketball career at Notre Dame. Nicknamed Hawk, he earned two monograms under coach Digger Phelps from 1971 to 1974. 

All of that adds up to a significant intimidation factor, until, that is, you actually meet him. Stevens, like so many, found a stability and support at Notre Dame that was sorely missing from his home life. He spent his early childhood in foster homes from Texas to upstate New York to Washington, D.C. area—an experience that seems to have deepened his appreciation and his determination to make a difference.

At Notre Dame, he not only earned an economics degree, but also converted to Catholicism. 

On the first day of any class, Stevens tells students, “I don’t know everything, but I’ll give you everything I’ve got.” This includes, on top of the regular curriculum, small but critical details for a business career such as writing thank-you notes, developing great sales skills and drafting compelling job search materials. 

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