Sonia Winner: President & CEO of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History


Sonia Winner (photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History)

Sonia Winner (photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History)

Sonia Winner became the 10th director of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in July 2018. In this role, she partners with a 50-person Board of Directors and 120 staff members to advance the mission of the Museum—an institution with $282 million in assets. For 100 years, the Museum has been inspiring a passion for science and nature in its visitors. It ranks among the top 10 natural history museums in the United States in terms of endowment, size of collection, and attendance.

Through the Museum’s Transformation Project and $150 million Transforming the World of Discovery campaign, Winner is spearheading a complete reimagining of the Museum’s complex in a way that highlights the interconnectedness of all life on Earth. The pioneering reinvention will serve as a new model for natural history museums globally.

Prior to her appointment as CEO, Winner served as Acting Director of the Museum beginning in January 2018. She returned to the Cleveland area in January 2017 to join the Museum team as Chief Development Officer. From 2011 to 2016, Winner served in leadership roles at Columbia University, culminating in a promotion to Vice President for University Development. In this role, she led all campaign and philanthropic efforts for Columbia’s most significant priorities, including global, program, and school-based strategies. Winner was recruited to Columbia to serve as Deputy Vice President for Professional Schools and Programs, and also served as Interim Vice President for University Development. She was part of the senior team that achieved $6.1 billion for the Columbia Campaign, which set an Ivy League record for largest funds raised in a single campaign.

Winner came to Columbia from Case Western Reserve University, where she spent more than a decade serving in associate dean roles at the Weatherhead School of Management and the Law School. She has worked with high level philanthropists in East Asia, South Asia, Europe, and South America, as well as in the United States. Before entering the development field, Winner spent many years in law career services, becoming one of the first lawyers in the country to work in this capacity.

Currently, Winner serves as Vice Chair on the Board of Visitors Committee for Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University. She has served on the Board of Trustees of the Cleveland Bar Association, the fifth largest bar association in the country, focusing on issues of diversity and strategic planning. She is the past chair of the Young Lawyers’ Section and past president of the Law Placement Association of Cleveland. She also volunteered as guardian ad litem on behalf of abused and neglected children. She served on the state board of the American Civil Liberties Union, attending two national conventions regarding free speech and individual liberties.

Winner was inducted into the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Hall of Fame in 2021. She was a Tri-C Foundation Smart Women Awards honoree and was named to the Crain’s Cleveland Business “Power 150” list in 2020, earning recognition as a leader of one of Northeast Ohio’s most influential organizations and one who is in a position to advance the region. In 2019, Winner received a “Smart 50” award from Smart Business Magazine, which honors the top executives of the 50 smartest companies in Northeast Ohio, and was named one of Cleveland Magazine’s “Most Interesting People.” Winner was born at Clark Air Force Base in Pampanga, Philippines. She is married to Kevin F. O’Neill, a First Amendment scholar and professor.

Listen the CEOs You Should Know podcast with Sonia Winner below.