Educator Bill Sonnenschein dies in Madagascar

| 07 January 2009

William "Bill" Sonnenschein, a senior lecturer on leadership and communication at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, passed away suddenly on December 29 in Madagascar. He died from heart failure following a brief gastric illness.

Sonnenschein, who was 59, was in Madagascar as a special adviser to the president, helping the country establish an Office of Leadership and Communication for Sustainable Development. His wife, Ericka Lutz, an author, lecturer, and writing consultant at the Haas School, and his youngest daughter, Anaya, were with him when he died in the town of Maraontsetra on Madagascar's east coast.

Bill SonnenscheinBill Sonnenschein with a lemur.

Sonnenschein, who lived in Oakland, had returned to Madagascar in October for a six-month assignment, following an earlier trip last May and June. At that time he created a nationwide leadership training program for mayors and community chiefs, wrote speeches for President Marc Ravalomanana, conducted short workshops for the president's staff, and met with cabinet members. On this most recent trip, he planned to work on a conference that would bring together businesses and environmental leaders.

A lecturer at Haas since 1992, Sonnenschein has been integral to the teaching of leadership communication at the Haas School, heading up the MBA core leadership communication program for both the Full-time and Evening & Weekend MBA Programs. Sonnenschein was consistently recognized for his teaching by students.

"Bill helped transform what was a disjointed set of low-enrollment electives into an integrated core course on leadership communication required of all MBA students that is now an important part of the Haas School's business curriculum," said Andrew Shogan, former associate dean who oversaw all instruction at Haas until 2008.

"For the past six years, Bill's teaching has affected every one of the 480 students who enroll annually in the Haas School's Full-Time and Evening & Weekend MBA Programs," Shogan added. "What a wonderful legacy for Bill's teaching!"

Sonnenschein also taught business communication to undergraduate students and delivered an annual "Speaking for Management" workshop in the Undergraduate Program's Business for Arts, Sciences, and Engineering (BASE) summer program. In addition, he taught courses on leadership communication and on leading and leveraging diversity for the school's Center for Executive Education.

Sonnenschein also served as a faculty advisor to the Young Entrepreneurs at Haas (YEAH), an outreach program for local middle and high school students, and as a member of the YEAH Executive Board.

"We will miss Bill dearly," said Haas School Dean Rich Lyons. "He was a close friend and inspiration to many of us within the Haas community."

Sonnenschein's contributions to UC Berkeley included creating and teaching the Leadership for Sustainable Development Module with the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program at the College of Natural Resources. Over the past five years, Sonnenschein helped to train environmental leaders from more than sixty countries. It was through this program that he met the student who would become President Ravalomanana's chief of staff and recommend Sonnenschein for the special adviser position.

"Bill will be sorely missed by all," said Lisa Gaylord, a 2001 graduate of UC Berkeley's Environmental Leadership Program and director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Madagascar. "In his short time in Madagascar, he left a mark that we will continue to embrace, and we will move forward on the foundation that he left built here. He was an inspiration to everyone he met with his open and unique style of storytelling and communication." Gaylord hosted Bill's wife Ericka and daughter Anaya for a brief Madagascar memorial on December 30.

Over the course of his career, Sonnenschein taught well over ten thousand students at UC Berkeley, Santa Clara University, San Francisco State University, Santa Rosa Junior College, University of San Francisco, and Saint Mary's College. He was a visiting lecturer at the University of St. Petersburg, Russia, and at BUTE, in Budapest, Hungary.

In addition to his teaching, Sonnenschein consulted and wrote about leadership, communications, and diversity. Among his books was The Diversity Toolkit, a training tool for organizations and universities. He was an avid traveler and an active volunteer, working with such organizations as World Pulse, a web and print forum covering global issues through the eyes of women.

Before becoming a teacher, Sonnenschein was active in the civil rights movement and a leader in the Bay Area draft resistance movement. He was also involved in the Bay Area music scene, as a roadie for Transatlantic Railroad, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Big Brother and the Holding Company. He was a key organizer for Vietnam Summer in 1967.

He was born in Alameda, California, on March 15, 1949.

Sonnenschein is survived by his wife, Ericka Lutz; his children, Aaron (Los Angeles, Calif.), Rachel (Santa Cruz, Calif.), and Anaya Sonnenschein; his sisters, Susan Sonnenschein (Santa Rosa, Calif.) and Sherry Alcala (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada); his granddaughter, Cordelia Sonnenschein (Los Angeles, Calif.); daughter-in-law Ruthie Crossley (Los Angeles, Calif.); niece Morgan Alcala (Birmingham, England); parents-in-law Arthur and Karla Lutz (Larkspur, Calif.); and many cousins, in-laws, and friends.

The Haas School and the College of Natural Resources are planning a joint memorial service later this month. The Sonnenschein family plans to hold a public memorial service for him in March.

In lieu of flowers the family asks that donations be made to Balls Without Borders, UNICEF, or Doctors Without Borders.