Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Yale SOM’s senior associate dean for leadership studies and the Lester Crown Professor in the Practice of Management, has been named Professor of the Year by the MBA website Poets & Quants, in recognition of his efforts during 2022 to organize a business boycott of Russia after the invasion of Ukraine.
Before the invasion, Sonnenfeld, the host of the Yale CEO Summit, was already widely known for his commentary on leadership, informed by decades of candid conversations with business and government leaders. But the publication of the “Yale list,” a database assembled by Sonnenfeld and a team of students tracking which companies were, and weren’t, withdrawing investment from Russia, brought him much wider attention—including from Russia’s leadership, as Poets & Quants editor John Byrne notes:
“An intellectual whirling dervish of energy, conversation, and commitment, Sonnenfeld is the sixth professor to earn the honor…. Yet none of our previous winners have had the impact on the world stage as Sonnenfeld who is now among 25 Americans, including First Lady Jill Biden and GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, on a Russian ‘stop list,’ barred from entering Russia.”
Sonnenfeld’s focus on business leaders’ role in advancing society dates back to his first book, Corporate Views of the Public Interest. More recently, he led a series of meetings of business leaders in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, helping them to coordinate in rejecting efforts to cast doubt on the election results. But the response to the invasion of Ukraine was unprecedented, he said in an interview with Byrne.
“I never would have guessed who the first movers were: big tech, big oil, and professional service firms,” he said. “You wouldn’t have thought they would put themselves out for public scrutiny with large writedowns and pronouncements. It was stunning and I hadn’t seen it happening.”
After going viral and garnering thousands of media mentions and millions of page views in its first weeks, the Russia list remains prominent in discussions of business relationships with Russia. “So far, knock on wood, there has been no blowback or resentment,” Sonnenfeld told Byrne. “There are some who try to come along and critique it but no one has shown anything to be wrong. We work hard on updating the list. The truth is Putin is running out of cards to play and Russia losing economic relevance.”