Jeffrey Sonnenfeld

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Jeffrey Sonnenfeld
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld at Foreign Press Center.jpg
Sonnenfeld speaks at the US State Department in 2022
Born (1954-04-01) April 1, 1954 (age 68)
SpouseClarky Sonnenfeld
Academic background
EducationHarvard University (AB, MBA, PhD)
Academic work
InstitutionsYale School of Management Senior Associate Dean for Leadership Studies, Lester Crown Professor in the Practice of Management, founder of Chief Executive Leadership Institute (CELI)

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld (born 1 April 1954) is the Lester Crown Professor in the Practice of Management at Yale School of Management, and Senior Associate Dean for Leadership Studies. Sonnenfeld is best known as the founder and CEO of Chief Executive Leadership Institute (CELI), affiliated with Yale University.[1]

Sonnenfeld has advised thousands of CEOs as well as multiple U.S. Presidents and nominees from both parties, including Joseph Biden, Donald Trump, and Bill Clinton as a conduit between top business and political leaders.[2] In addition to convening regular CEO conferences, in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 United States presidential election and the 2021 United States Capitol attack, Sonnenfeld convened top executives for several high-level, off-the-record discussions to plan the collective response from the business community.[3] He is the first academician to have rung the opening bells of both the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq Stock Exchange, having done so 10 times.[4] Amidst the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sonnenfeld was involved in efforts to encourage multinational businesses to exit Russia through the Yale CELI List of Companies.


Early life[edit]

Born in Philadelphia on April 1st, 1954 to Jewish parents, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld is the son of Burton Sonnenfeld, a men's clothing retailer, and Rochelle Sonnenfeld, a healthcare and community leader. Sonnenfeld's mother, Rochelle, originally immigrated to the United States from the former Russian Empire in the 1920s.[5] Sonnenfeld earned his AB, MBA, and PhD degrees from Harvard University. At age 26, he joined the faculty of the Harvard Business School where he taught for 10 years.[6]


After a decade at Emory University, Sonnenfeld joined the faculty at Yale, bringing with him the CEO College and launching the Chief Executive Leadership Institute.[7] At Yale, he built a new department of Executive Programs, offering 35 programs a year to roughly 2,000 top leaders with sessions in New Haven, New York City, Beijing, New Delhi, Mumbai, and Shanghai, and opened Yale University's first outpost in Washington, D.C. in 2011. His 2007 book, Firing Back (with Andrew Ward, Harvard Business School Press), studies the paths to resilience for felled CEOs, as well as victims from natural disasters, warfare, and other forms of disruption and adversity.

At Yale SOM, Sonnenfeld teaches the popular course "Strategic Leadership Across Sectors", which is consistently the school's most popular and oversubscribed course. Sonnenfeld's previous students from Harvard, Emory, and Yale have gone on to become CEOs and leaders in a wide variety of fields.[8] Sonnenfeld continues to be active in the local community and currently resides in Connecticut with his wife, Clarky, and their two daughters, Sophie and Lauren.

Emory University Controversy[edit]

In 1997, while employed as a professor at Emory University, Sonnenfeld was informed by campus police that they possessed video footage of him vandalizing school property. Sonnenfeld resigned and subsequently sued Emory University.[9]

Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute[edit]

Sonnenfeld is the founder of Chief Executive Leadership Institute (CELI), a non-profit educational and research institute focused on CEO leadership and corporate governance, and the world's first school for chief executives.[10] He pioneered the program as a prototype at the Harvard Business School in 1987 and 1988.[11] In 2000, this institute moved to Yale University where it presently resides.

Sonnenfeld's CEO summits have drawn leaders from business, government, public policy, nonprofits, NGOs, and higher education. Past attendees have included Stephen Schwarzman, Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, Ray Dalio, Ashton Carter, Elaine Chao, Maurice Greenberg, Dina Powell, Robert Hormats, Carla Hills, Farooq Kathwari, John Bogle, John Whitehead, Albert Gordon, Jeffrey Bewkes, Randall Stephenson, David Shulkin, Wilbur Ross, Steven Mnuchin, Anthony Scaramucci, Peter Orszag, John Negroponte, Chris Shays, Indra Nooyi, Kevin Rudd, Steven Mnuchin, Ken Langone, David Solomon, Peter Navarro, Bob Woodward, Roland Betts, Peter Salovey, Danny Meyer, Brian Duperreault, Joanne Lipman, Jeff Zucker, Stefano Pessina, Dennis Muilenburg, Alex Gorsky, David Abney, Robert Lighthizer, Jared Kushner, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Richard Blumenthal, Gina Raimondo, Janet Yellen, Larry Bacow and many other influential leaders from across sectors. In December 2019, The Chief Executive Leadership Institute celebrated its 100th CEO Summit in New York City.[11]

On behalf of Yale University, Sonnenfeld is responsible for presenting the prestigious Yale Legend of Leadership Award and the Yale Lifetime of Leadership Award. Past recipients have included Colin Powell, Carla Hills, Stephen Schwarzman, Maurice Greenberg, John Whitehead, John Bogle, Albert Gordon, David Stern, Bernard Marcus, Bob Iger, Indra Nooyi, Janet Yellen, Ginni Rometty, Mary Barra, Brian Moynihan, David Rubenstein, Marillyn Hewson, Jamie Dimon, and Ken Frazier.[12]

His scholarly research focus is in management and social responsibility, and he has published in journals such as Administrative Science Quarterly, Academy of Management Journal, The Academy of Management Review, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Social Forces, Human Relations, and Human Resource Management, as well as authored many books, including The Hero's Farewell: What Happens When CEOs Retire (Oxford University Press, 1988) and Firing Back: How Great Leaders Overcome Adversity (Harvard Business School Press, 2007) with Emory alumnus Andrew Ward. Sonnenfeld has served on the editorial boards of several journals, and his professional activities also include membership on various non-profit organization and public company boards.

Sonnenfeld earned the 2018 Ellis Island award from the US Ellis Island Foundation. He was Harvard's first John Whitehead Faculty Fellow and won outstanding educator awards at Yale, Emory and the American Society for Training and Development. Additionally, he was the winner of ATT's "Hawthorn Award for Social Research in Industry" and Richard D. Irwin Award for Management Research. He was also awarded the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award by the Boy Scouts of America. Sonnenfeld was listed by Business Week as one of the "ten B-school professors who are influencing contemporary business thinking"[13] and one of the "100 most influential players in corporate governance" by National Association of Corporate Director's Directorship.[14]

He is on the board of IEX,[15] Lennar, Atlas Merchant Capital, the Ellis Island Honor Society, the National Council on Aging, and a representative of Governor Ned Lamont on the AdvanceCT Board of Directors. He is a member of the Ellis Island Foundation Trustees and is a board member for Advance Connecticut with the Connecticut Economic Resource Center.

Selected publications[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Yale CELI".
  2. ^ "Business Insider". Business Insider.
  3. ^ "Time".
  4. ^ "Yale CELI".
  5. ^ "Rochelle Sonnenfeld Obituary (2012) Montgomery News". Retrieved 2022-05-24.
  6. ^ "Yale CELI".
  7. ^ "Yale CELI".
  8. ^ "Glenn Rifkin Profile".
  9. ^ "The End Of The Affair Jeffrey Sonnenfeld's battle with Emory University is finally over, but the question remains: Why on earth did Emory's president accuse Sonnenfeld of vandalism?".
  10. ^ "Yale CELI".
  11. ^ a b Rifkin, G. (2011, Winter). CEO Master Class, Briefings Magazine, The Korn/Ferry Institute.
  12. ^ "Yale CELI".
  13. ^ Macsai, D. (2007, Aug 22). B-School All-Stars, BusinessWeek, 13.
  14. ^ Directorship 100. (cover story). (2007, Sep). NACD Directorship, 33(4), 21-37.
  15. ^ Executive Team, IEX, retrieved October 26, 2017

External links[edit]