Mark Haines: Jeffrey Sonnenfeld Remembers
I am so sorry about your loss, our nation’s loss, and his family’s loss.
For we in the distant planet Mark would call “the strange land of Academia,” Mark was the gold standard of journalistic integrity. I worked with him for 21 years - since 1990 as one of his regular commentators on the courage and conduct of top leaders.
Through him, I learned how to stop speaking in paragraphs and pages in the pathological way most academics communicate. Instead, he forced informality, crispness, and candor. He pretended to be a “young curmudgeon” but was really a revolutionary with his rare, unscripted authenticity.
In world of hype, Mark, while stubborn, showed no hint of personal grandiosity. Similarly, he speared self-promoting executives and punctured pomposity of professors – with zeal. No one was safe, even school teachers. While he would always drape us with an effusive “Welcome Professor” salutation, he did not spare lost academics from their peddling of misleading data, incoherent theories, or inconsistent conclusions. He always treated academics with respect – but showed his impatience in ways that stunned some professors accustomed to passive audiences.
Of course, the toughest CEO interview EVER on TV was Mark’s legendary three hour grilling of Jeff Bezos on Squawk Box in 2000. This like many of his interviews, have been shown and reshown in MBA classes around the world for years. (He insisted on knowing the value of “pro forma profits” and what the “chief crap master did!”) When I told him about the afterlife of his shows, he did not believe me. The afterlife of his contributions to financial journalism will be very long lasting.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld is the Senior Associate Dean for Executive Programs & Lester Crown Professor in the Practice of Management at Yale School of Management. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld served as full tenured professor at Emory's Goizueta Business School for a decade and a professor at the Harvard Business School for a decade, and is currently the senior associate dean of executive programs as well as the Lester Crown Professor in the Practice of Management for the Yale School of Management, as well as founder and president of the Chief Executive Leadership Institute, a nonprofit educational and research institute focused on CEO leadership and corporate governance.