Marvin Zonis

Marvin Zonis, 84, widely admired and loved Professor Emeritus of Business Administration at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, died on Sunday, November 15, 2020 after a brief illness.

Professor Zonis was born and raised in Boston. He was educated at Yale University, Harvard Business School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (where he received a Ph.D. in Political Science), and the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute.

Zonis’ career at the University of Chicago spanned over fifty years; he was devoted to the institution and its students. His research and expertise were wide-ranging and cross-disciplinary. He began his career as a scholar of Iranian politics and became a leading authority on the Middle East more broadly. Over the course of five decades, he worked in the Department of Political Science, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and the Committee on Human Development before joining the Booth School of Business in 1987. At Booth he developed some of the School’s most popular courses, on topics including leadership, international political economy, political risk, and emerging economies. He was the first at Booth to teach a course on the effects of digital technologies on global business.

Zonis was at heart a teacher who taught with charisma, warmth, wisdom, and humor. As a staunch advocate of the University of Chicago’s ethos of teaching students how to think, he taught undergraduate core classes in the social sciences for many years. He was committed to preparing students to be better citizens and contributors to their home countries and to the world. A mentor and friend to generations of students, he provided guidance, support, and inspiration as they pursued their careers and life goals all over the globe in academia and the corporate and financial worlds. He found immense gratification in their successes.

Professor Zonis was proud to have received many accolades for his teaching, including the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, and the Norman Maclean Faculty Award for outstanding contributions to teaching and to the student experience at the University of Chicago.

The Marvin Zonis International Scholarship Fund, awarded each year to an exceptional prospective Booth student from an emerging economy, was created in his honor by a group of his former students. He and his wife Lucy Salenger were deeply involved in the experiences of scholarship recipients when they came to Chicago. Professor Zonis went so far as to buy winter gear for students arriving from warm climates.

Throughout his career, Zonis wrote extensively on topics including Middle Eastern politics, US foreign policy, and globalization. He often analyzed political events and leaders through the lens of psychoanalytic theory. His articles have been widely published, including in the Financial Times, The New York Times, and the International Herald Tribune. His books include The Political Elite of Iran, Majestic Failure: The Fall of the Shah, Risk Rules: How Local Politics Threaten the Global Economy (co-author), and The Kimchi Matters: Global Business and Local Politics in a Crisis Driven World (co-author). Zonis served on multiple boards, including those of the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute, CNA Financial, and City Elementary, a Chicago school for diverse learners.

During the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 ABC’s Nightline called on Professor Zonis, then one of the few American experts on Iran, to explain events as they unfolded. He was a charismatic presence on camera, and skilled at clearly interpreting complex events in unfamiliar regions for general audiences. He became a frequent media commentator on international affairs.This led to consulting for corporations, including Fidelity Investments, KPMG, and Accenture.

Zonis and his wife Lucy traveled extensively around the world. They spent extended periods of time abroad, living for portions of each year in a deconsecrated church on an hillside near Città di Castello, Italy, hosting many grateful friends, collegues, former students, and family members.

While conducting research for his Ph.D. dissertation in the early 1960s, Zonis spent two years living in Tehran. To his astonishment he was introduced there to another Mr. Zonis, a cousin who had fled Romania and lost his family to the Nazis. He developed a deep friendship with the Iranian Zonis family, and ultimately helped the younger generation to immigrate to Chicago. As the first-generation American son of immigrants who fled persecution in Russia himself, the opportunity to help his cousins and their children to build rich lives in the United States was very meaningful to him. Sadly, Zonis was never able to return to Iran after the Revolution of 1979 as he had been officially declared an “enemy of the people.”

In addition to his wife Lucy Salenger, Professor Zonis is survived by daughters Brix Smith Start of London, Nadia Zonis of New York City, and Leah Zonis Harp of Minneapolis, sons-in-law Philip Start and Jason Harp, and grandsons Lev and Hank Harp. His loss will be felt by dear friends, family, and former students in Chicago and around the world.

A memorial service will be held in Chicago at a later date to be determined. Contributions can be made to the Marvin Zonis International Scholarship Fund via this link to the Marvin Zonis Scholarship,  or by calling 773-702-7747. Contributions can also be sent to The University of Chicago, 5235 S. Harper Ct., 4th Fl., Chicago, IL 60615. Checks should be made out to the University of Chicago with an indication that they are for the Marvin Zonis International Scholarship Fund.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Marvin Zonis, a renowned professor at the University of Chicago who appeared on CBS 2 as an international analyst for many years, has died.

Zonis passed away on Sunday, the U of C’s Booth School of Business announced. He was 84.

He joined the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1966 – first in the Political Science Department in the College, and then at the Committee on Human Development. He joined the faculty of the Booth School of Business in 1987.

At the Booth School, Zonis taught courses on international political economy, political risk, and business leadership. He was also the first at Booth to teach a course on the effects of digital technologies and global business.

Zonis received a Quantrell Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching, and also a Norman Maclean Award for outstanding contributions to teaching and to the student experience at the U of C, the Booth School said.

“Marvin was a popular professor who stayed close with his students as a friend and mentor long after they graduated from Booth. He would personally invest his time, energy, and resources to support recipients of the Marvin Zonis International Scholarship, which was endowed to provide financial support for an international student from an emerging economy,” Booth School Dean Madhav V. Rajan wrote. “He also enjoyed participating in alumni events across the globe, and for two decades served on the panel for the Business Forecast lunch, now the Economic Outlook.”

Zonis wrote extensively on globalization, digital technologies, emerging markets, Middle Eastern politics, the oil industry, Russia, and U.S. foreign policy, the Booth School said. He also served as director of Middle Eastern studies at the U of C and was a former president of the American Institute of Iranian Studies.

Zonis also appeared as an international analyst on CBS 2 for decades – starting in 1983. He provided insight into a variety of international affairs and conflicts – particularly military conflict in the Middle East.

In the clip above from Oct. 21, 2011, Zonis talked with CBS 2’s Walter Jacobson about the wisdom of withdrawing troops from Iraq. At the time, President Barack Obama had announced that troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by year’s end.

Zonis is survived by his wife, Lucy Salenger, who founded the Illinois Film Office.