Yale Daily Newss

Yale School of Management professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld’s viral list of American companies that have cut ties with Russia was updated to indicate which companies have fully severed relations with the country — and which have kept open the option to return.

After Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Sonnenfeld, an advocate for corporate social responsibility, compiled a list of companies who had cut ties with Russia — and those who had not. Now, with complex corporate public relations campaigns and differing degrees of involvement in Russia, Sonnenfeld and his team of researchers at the SOM have updated the list to include five degrees of corporate involvement with Russia. The categories include “Withdrawal,” denoting an absence of corporate operations in Russia; “Suspension,” denoting a temporary stop to operations in Russia; “Scaling Back,” reflecting a lessening of operations in Russia; “Buying Time,” denoting a postponement to new operations in Russia; and “Digging In”, indicating a continuation of typical operations in Russia. 

“Initially we wanted to distinguish those companies authentically curtailing operations from the PR-drenched pretenders and the stubborn set of those simply remaining [in Russia],” Sonnenfeld wrote in an email to the News. “However clever PR platoons still created smokescreens blurring those who either truly withdrew permanently or suspended operations from those making cosmetic moves which we legally had to recognize but were, in reality, inconsequential to the Russian economy.”

Sonnenfeld’s original list had an “unexpectedly catalytic effect” by praising the companies that were the first to cut ties with Russia while also giving a point of comparison for CEOs hoping to sever relations with Russia but facing cautious boards, he added. It reached the pages of the New York Times, Washington Post and Fortune.

Companies that hoped to quietly do business in Russia were “outed by the spotlight of public attention from our list,” Sonnenfeld said. 

Sonnenfeld believes that American corporations have a moral responsibility to enact “business blockades” that profoundly affect civil society, he said. This is the “only way to beat a blood-thirsty tyrant short of war,” he argued.

On March 16, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the United States Congress to implement additional sanctions on Russia. 

“All American companies must leave [the Russian] market immediately because it is flooded with our blood,” Zelensky said in a video address to Congress.

Sonnenfeld’s list includes 174 companies categorized as having completely halted Russian engagements and exited Russia — including many oil companies, professional services firms and tech firms, such as BlackRock, Deloitte and Apple. 

According to Sonnenfeld and his research team, 195 companies have temporarily curtailed operations, but have kept return options open. 

A total of 31 companies on the list have scaled back business operations while continuing certain other operations. Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan are winding down business in Russia but are buying Russian debt, according to the published list.

“Goldman Sachs is winding down its business in Russia in compliance with regulatory and licensing requirements,” a bank spokeswoman told CNBC. “In our role as market-maker standing between buyers and sellers, we are helping our clients reduce their risk in Russian securities which trade in the secondary market, not seeking to speculate.”

According to the list, 56 companies are postponing future planned investment, development and marketing while continuing “substantive business.” Hilton and Marriott, for example, have suspended new investments and closed their corporate offices, but their hotels, mainly run by third-party groups, continue to operate in Russia.

Lastly, 42 companies are defying demands to exit or reduce their activities. Koch Industries is included in this category. A statement signed by Koch Chief Operating Officer Dave Robertson said that the company would continue to operate its two Russian glass facilities owned by Guardian Industries, a company acquired in 2017. According to Robertson, closing the facilities would “only put our employees there at greater risk and do more harm than good.”

“Yet other [companies] are cynically trying to drape their cowardice and greed with concepts of humanitarian services, nutritional necessities and concern to innocent long term Russian employees — missing the fundamental purpose of these economic measures as an urgent last-ditch effort to prevent a catastrophic WWIII,” Sonnenfeld said. 

The list’s data comes from company website announcements and public statements, financial regulatory filings with the SEC, multi-anchored documented mainstream news coverage, industry analysts, FactSet and other databases, Bloomberg and a Wiki-style network of 200 whistleblowing company insiders. 

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld is the founder and CEO of the Chief Executive Leadership Institute. 

Charlotte Hughes reports on climate and environmental issues in New Haven. Originally from Columbia, South Carolina, she is a freshman in Branford College majoring in English.