Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine, will accept the Legend in Leadership Award from the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute during the Yale CEO Summit on June 8 at the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman building. President Zelensky will join the Yale CEO Summit remotely at 9 AM ET for a moderated Q&A with 150 top CEOs. President Zelensky's interactive session, which is one of the only such sessions President Zelensky has held since the start of the Russia-Ukraine invasion, and the following award presentation, will be live-streamed on CNBC.
The Legend in Leadership award will be presented by Kevin Rudd, 26th Prime Minister of Australia and President of the Asia Society Policy Institute; Klaus Kleinfeld, Former CEO of Siemens, Alcoa, and Arconic; and Timothy Snyder, Richard Levin Professor of History at Yale University.
President Zelensky has served as the sixth President of Ukraine since 2019.
Born to a Jewish family, Zelensky grew up as a native Russian speaker in Kryvyi Rih, a major city of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast in central Ukraine. He obtained a degree in law from the Kyiv National Economic University. He then pursued a career in acting and comedy and created the production company Kvartal 95, which produced films, cartoons, and TV shows, including the TV series Servant of the People, in which Zelensky played the role of the Ukrainian president. The series aired from 2015 to 2019 and was immensely popular. A political party bearing the same name as the television show was created in March 2018 by employees of Kvartal 95.
Zelensky announced his candidacy in the 2019 Ukrainian presidential election on the evening of December 31, 2018, alongside the New Year’s Eve address of then-president Petro Poroshenko on the TV channel 1+1. A political outsider, he had already become one of the frontrunners in opinion polls for the election. He won the election with 73 percent of the vote in the second round, defeating Poroshenko.
As president, Zelensky has been a proponent of e-government and of unity between the Ukrainian- and Russian-speaking parts of the country’s population. His party won a landslide victory in the snap legislative election held shortly after his inauguration as president. During his administration, Zelensky oversaw the lifting of legal immunity for members of parliament (the Verkhovna Rada); the country's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic recession; and some progress in tackling corruption in Ukraine.
Summit organizer Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean for leadership studies at the Yale School of Management, commented: “There is no description of President Zelensky that does not include the word ‘hero.’ The world has seen why over these last months. Ever since President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine began, the contrast between Presidents Putin and Zelensky could not be more clear.”
Sonnenfeld continued, “Despite offers of airlifted escape to safety and predictions that Russia would soon overrun Ukraine, President Zelensky has bravely led his people in defending Ukraine while exemplifying not only extraordinary courage under duress, but what it means to be an inspirational, world-changing leader. The stakes could not be higher, and Ukraine’s struggle is nothing short of a proxy for the struggle for democracy and sovereign freedom in the world against authoritarian challenges. President Zelensky and his people are the frontline soldiers in this battle for the world’s free democracies.”
Sonnenfeld concluded: “In his first inaugural address, President Zelensky declared, ‘I do not want my pictures in your offices: the President is not an icon, an idol, or a portrait. Hang your kids’ photos instead, and look at them each time you are making a decision.’ Indeed, President Zelensky is the personification of the selfless, transcendent leadership values that have unified his nation and inspired the people around the world in this noble fight for freedom and self-determination. The voluntary withdrawal of nearly 1,000 private-sector companies, combined with economic sanctions, has impacted Russia’s economy, providing some support to the ongoing valorous Ukrainian efforts on the battlefield. The continuing military challenge accentuates the importance of supporting President Zelensky’s vision for building the new Ukraine through industry, infrastructure, and educational cultural anchors moving forward.”
The Legend in Leadership Award was created 25 years ago to honor current and former CEOs who serve as living legends to inspire chief executives across industries, sectors, and nations. Past recipients include: Lynn Good, CEO, Duke Energy; Lisa Su, CEO, AMD; Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the NIAID; Doug McMillon, CEO, Walmart; Arne Sorenson, CEO, Marriott International; Andrew J. Young, mayor (1982-1990), Atlanta, Georgia, and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (1977-1979); Brian C. Cornell, chair and CEO, Target Corporation; Doug McMillan, president and CEO, Walmart; Ivan G. Seidenberg, chair and CEO, Verizon Communications; Ken Frazier, chair and CEO, Merck & Co.; Randall L. Stephenson, chairman and CEO, AT&T; Colin Powell, retired four-star U.S. Army General, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989–93), and 65th U.S. Secretary of State (2001–05); Virginia M. (Ginni) Rometty, chairman, president, and CEO, IBM Corporation; Janet Yellen, United States Secretary of the Treasury; Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever PLC; Mary T. Barra, chairman and chief executive of General Motors Company; Brian Moynihan, chairman and CEO, Bank of America; David M. Rubenstein, co-founder and co-executive chairman, The Carlyle Group; Leonard S. Schleifer, president and CEO, and George D. Yancopoulos, president and chief scientific officer, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals; Brian Roberts, CEO, Comcast; Marillyn Hewson, CEO, Lockheed Martin; Jamie Dimon, CEO, JPMorgan Chase; and Ken Chenault, chair and CEO, American Express. A full list of recipients can be found online.
The Summit theme is “The World is Round: Thinking Global Acting Local or Thinking Local Acting Local.” The event promises to be a lively, candid discussion with distinguished global corporate leaders from across industries.
Among those top leaders participating are the CEOs and leaders from: Pfizer; American Airlines; Citigroup; Goldman Sachs; Liberty Media; Molson Coors; AMC Entertainment; Amphenol; Snap-on; Verizon; Marsh; Ethan Allen; Paul Weiss; Lazard; and the Anti-Defamation League, as well as 35 major city mayors.
Conference partners include AccuWeather, Alix Partners, Deloitte, Evercore, Gladstone Place Partners, IBM, NewsGuard, Paul Weiss, Stagwell Group, and UPS.