A Conversation with Distinguished Professor Sonfield

Meet the People of Zarb: Robert F. Dall Distinguished Professor Matthew C. Sonfield

[Note: This is one in a series of posts to highlight the people who contribute to making the Zarb School of Business a special place.]

Here is our Q&A with Dr. Sonfield, one of the Zarb School’s distinguished professors.

  • Could you describe your educational, academic, and professional background.

Directly out of college (AB from Cornell University), I earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School.

I then joined a large musical instrument distribution business in which my family had partial ownership for three generations (and where I had worked every summer since grade school).  During this time period, starting in 1969, I also taught as an adjunct professor at Hofstra.

A number of years later, my partners and I sold this business to a major conglomerate, and I then earned a Ph.D. from New York University’s Graduate School of Business, joining Hofstra as a full-time faculty member in 1975. 

  •  What are your major areas of teaching and research interest?

At Hofstra, my teaching focus has been Strategic Management at both the BBA and MBA levels, using computer-based business simulations and also case analyses as my primary pedagogical teaching methods.  I also have directed a student consulting program which has served more than 260 small businesses and not-for-profit organizations on Long Island. 

My research has focused on Entrepreneurship and Small Business, with specific interests in Family Business and Minority Business.  I have published about 55 articles in scholarly academic journals (many of which have been frequently cited by other researchers), as well as more than 160 papers published in the Proceedings of major academic conferences. I also have over 100 other academic publications to my name (book chapters, textbook cases, etc.). For the majority of these publications, I was either sole or senior author.

The Sonfield & Lussier “Entrepreneurial Strategy Matrix” has been adopted as an analytical tool and model in a variety of textbooks, trade books, and course syllabi in Management Fundamentals, Strategic Management, Entrepreneurship, and Small Business Management courses.  An Internet search at any given time will generate thousands of venues for this model.

  • What is your philosophy with regard to the three major goals for ZSOB faculty: teaching, research, and service?

While I believe that providing a superior education is the primary role for Hofstra University and its faculty, I also think that quality teaching by our full-time faculty is best supported by accompanying quality academic research.

Our adjunct faculty members can complement our full-time faculty by bringing high-level and relevant professional business experience to the classroom.

Furthermore, I personally find service to the School and University to be very important and satisfying.  I am the only Zarb School faculty member to have served as both the Speaker of the University Faculty and also the Chair of the University Senate.

  • Please describe some of your accomplishments while at the Zarb School.

By being one of the most senior members of the Zarb faculty, I played a major role in expanding the School’s pedagogy beyond the lecture format.  Many of our faculty members now utilize the case method as a component of their teaching process; but that was not the situation forty years ago, when I was one of the first to use this pedagogical tool in the classroom.

Similarly, business simulations were in their infancy when I first arrived here – students’ strategic decisions were written on paper and hand-carried to Hofstra’s central mainframe computer facility, where processing might take several days. Today, many Zarb School courses utilize simulations, generally administered and processed instantly on-line.

  •  How have you seen the Zarb School change over the years?

Of course, the nature and content of our curriculum and the scholarly and professional characteristics of our faculty have changed over time.  And our students are more diverse in a variety of ways.  All of this represents a major strengthening of our School.

However, I sometimes reminisce about the days in the far distant past when there were no smartphones and other personal communication devices to compete with the instructor in the classroom!

  •  What is something most people don’t know about you?

 I am a serious devotee of classical music, while my tastes in popular music ended with late 1950s doo-wop.  (My apologies to my students and colleagues for this.)

I am also an internationally-recognized expert on custom automobile coachwork of the 1920s and 1930s, and have published extensively in this area (separate from my academic writings in business administration, as discussed above).

  •  Any final thoughts?

My years in the Zarb School have been extremely rewarding and enjoyable.  I can’t imagine a better career choice or venue.


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