Edgar Bronfman, Sr. ’50 presented a lecture entitled “A Leadership Odyssey: Generating and Managing Change in Public and Private Domains” last Wednesday. In his talk, Bronfman distinguished between his leadership roles in a corporation and in a “do-good” organization. He discussed applying the listening skills essential for working with volunteers in the World Jewish Congress to his business position as well as applying corporate skills such as discipline and measurement to the nonprofit world.
Bronfman shared many stories from his extensive work for the World Jewish Congress. Assisting Jewish people in what was then the Soviet Union was one of Bronfman’s initial priorities.
He discussed his many trips to Moscow as well as his meetings with Soviet leaders, meetings in which in which his persistence paid off.
Nancy Roseman, dean of the College, found these stories very interesting. “As someone who grew up in the time frame he was discussing, it was incredible to hear him talk about his visits to the Soviet Union and his conversations with those in power,” she said.
Bronfman is known and respected for his work with the World Jewish Restitution Organization, a group involved in compensating people for the money that they lost as a result of the Holocaust, whether they were survivors or families of victims. According to Bronfman, “The real victory with restitution was making people rewrite their histories so they would tell the truth.”
Bronfman mentioned his plans for the future, specifically, his hope to create a “Jewish Renaissance” based on education. In addition to founding Hillel, a foundation dedicated to promoting Jewish life on campuses, he also hopes to use some of the money from restitution efforts to fund more local programs that will give Jewish people a chance to learn about their history.
Bronfman’s resume and future plans are impressive in terms of both his corporate and his philanthropic successes. Morton Owen Schapiro, president of the College, expressed his respect for Bronfman.
“We are so proud that Edgar Bronfman is one of our alumni. Not only has he been amazingly generous to Williams, but he puts us on the map internationally in a brilliant way.”
George Goethals, chair of the Leadership Studies program, helped to organize the event.
He said, “It was fascinating to see how a man with that much power in the corporate world thinks about using that power for good in the geopolitical world. I was delighted that he agreed to be one of the most distinguished speakers in the Leadership Studies program.”
Bronfman was CEO of Distillers Corporation-Seagram Limited for 25 years. He was also president of the World Jewish Congress and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999.