Jeffrey Sonnenfeld

Senior Associate Dean, Yale University

Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld carries a very long list of qualifications, though he’s mainly known for being the Senior Associate Dean for Executive Programs and Lester Crown Professor in the Practice of Management at Yale School of Management (SOM). He’s taught at Yale since 1999 and before that at Harvard Business School as well as Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. But outside academia, his expertise has always been in high demand. He’s advised corporate leaders and CEOs as well as U.S. Presidents from both parties. He holds regular and well-attended CEO conferences, which allowed him to organize a special executive meeting of top corporate leaders in the wake of the contested 2020 presidential election and the January 6 attack on the U.S. capitol. In each instance, these discussions helped formulate the business community’s response to a national crisis. All these efforts have earned him a number of accolades, among them the 2018 Ellis Island Award from the U.S. Ellis Island Foundation and Business Week’s endorsement as one of the “ten B-school professors who are influencing contemporary business thinking.” Then he went and founded the Chief Executive Leadership Institute (CELI) and began researching current business trends in the USSR. That’s when things went a little nuts.

Why They Made the Worthy 100: Along with the head of research at CELI, Steven Tian, Sonnenfeld began building a living list of Russian businesses. That list records in detail all the sanctions, boycotts, and other penalties facing Russian businesses and the Russian economy in general since the start of the Ukraine War. It’s fascinating data, but it also went viral and drew a stark response from the Kremlin, something Sonnenfeld says he didn’t expect. According to him, he and CELI are now higher on the Kremlin’s sanctioned individuals list than Mitch McConnell. But his work has also garnered attention from other governments. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, members of the British cabinet, as well as reps from the International Monetary Fund have all requested meetings with CELI and access to its data. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was so impressed by CELI’s work that he agreed to speak without a prepared script at Sonnenfeld’s CEO summit in July 2022. Regardless of the attention or consequences, Sonnenfeld and CELI are forging ahead with their research and evolving their data from a simple yes/no format into a tiered grading system that also incorporates the current financial stats of every company on the list. It’s a mountain of work and could cause more problems for Sonnenfeld in the future, but he’s moving forward and not backing down. 

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