Sophia Shaw


Sophia Shaw is cofounder and managing partner of Acorn Advisors LLC and Adjunct Professor of Social Impact at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. At Kellogg, Sophia teaches board governance and directs Kellogg Board Fellows, a rigorous program that connects top Kellogg MBA students to Chicago-area nonprofits for a distinct opportunity in board service.

From 2007–2016, Sophia served as president and CEO of the Chicago Botanic Garden, among the largest cultural institutions in the Midwest and one of the preeminent botanic gardens of the world. Under Sophia’s guidance, the 385-acre campus experienced a 52 percent increase in attendance as well as record-breaking fundraising (nearly $240 million) and operating budget results. The Garden also became recognized as a global model for environmental conservation, urban agriculture, and horticulture jobs training and education, emphasizing programs for diverse and underserved communities in partnership with a wide variety of corporations, schools, healthcare centers, organizations, and government agencies. In recognition of her team's work at the Garden, in 2016 Sophia was awarded the Openlands Conservation Leadership Award. Prior to leading the Chicago Botanic Garden, Sophia served as vice president of exhibitions and education at The Field Museum and worked in curatorial roles at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Throughout her career, Sophia has made board service a priority. She brings her skills in governance, strategy, enterprise risk management, master site planning, construction, and nonprofit finance to her current roles as trustee at the Art Institute of Chicago and advisory board member at the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution), where she also serves on the executive and nominating committees and chairs the public engagement committee. She is a past board president of the Arts Club of Chicago and has served on the executive committees of the Commercial Club of Chicago and the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO).

Sophia holds both a B.A. (Wellesley College) and an M.A. (University of Chicago) in art history, and an M.B.A. in finance (Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University).


Essays and Articles:

Plan to live a full life because we very well may make it to 100”—my mom (January 8, 2019)

Elevate College Access and Success Program (Board Meeting Role-play Exercise),” Kellogg Case Publishing and Harvard Business Publishing (December 2, 2018)

It is a Myth that Nonprofit Organizations Don’t Need to Make a Profit (October 14, 2018)

Gardening and Mental Health (February 28, 2017)

Running: Steps I Took to Find “the Zone” (February 27, 2017)

Five Succession Planning Steps to Overcome Founder’s Syndrome (February 21, 2017)

“Cultivating the Power of Plants to Sustain and Enrich Life: How Public Gardens Can Realise our Purpose by Focusing on the Basic Human Needs Universal to Diverse Audiences,” chapter 8 in Plant Conservation Science and Practice: The Role of Botanic Gardens, Stephen Blackmore and Sara Oldfield, editors, Cambridge University Press (with Jennifer Schwarz Ballard, 2017).

Thank you, Chicago Botanic Garden (May 9, 2016)

The Positive Effects on Mental Health of Visiting Botanic Gardens,” Sibbaldia, the journal of botanic garden horticulture published by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (2015)

Mentoring Is Critical to Keep Minorities in STEM,” Entrepreneur online (July 9, 2015)

Life Lessons From the C-Suite: Chicago Botanic Garden’s Sophia Shaw,” (March 9, 2015)

It’s Time to Teach Climate Change in School. Here’s How,” The Guardian online (September 2014)

Kellogg Allstate Foundation Nonprofit Management Essentials On-Demand

Speaker, “Yes, Nonprofits Can Earn Money,” Kellogg Allstate Foundation Nonprofit Management Essentials On-Demand (October 2018)

Speaker, Conservation Leadership Award Recipient, Openlands 2016 Annual Luncheon, Chicago, IL (October 13, 2016)

Speaker, National Tropical Botanic Garden 50th Anniversary Symposium, “Agents of Change,” Washington, DC (October 7, 2014)

Plenary Speaker, "Why Gardens are Important, Especially Now," 5th Global Botanic Gardens Conference, Dunedin, New Zealand (October 24, 2013)

Profile, “Why the Botanic Garden’s Chief Has an Un-botanical Office,” Crain’s Chicago Business (February 17, 2012)

Profile, "25 Women to Watch,” Crain’s Chicago Business (May 5, 2008)

Interview with Phil Ponce, Chicago Tonight, WTTW (September 30, 2009)

Interview with Phil Ponce, Chicago Tonight, WTTW (April 26, 2007)

Selected Profiles and Quotes:

Katie Thomas, “Cancer Center Switches Focus on Fundraising as Problems Mount,” The New York Times (September 25, 2018)

65 Years, 65 Faces of IES Abroad—Sophia Shaw,” IES Abroad online (October 2015)

Sophia Shaw Leaving Botanic Garden,” Crain’s Chicago Business (June 16, 2015)

Chicago Botanic Garden CEO Moving on After Almost 10 Years,” Chicago Tribune (June 29, 2015)

Women in CSR: Sophia Shaw Siskel,” Chicago Botanic Garden,” Triple Pundit, October 29, 2013

Executive Profile: A Bold Plan for Growth,” Chicago Tribune (July 1, 2013); section 2 cover story

One CEO’s garden ethic,” WBEZ 91.5 Chicago (Chris Bentley blog April 6, 2013)

Mad Love for Green Women,” Wren (March 2013)

“100 Women to Watch 2012,” Today’s Chicago Woman (TCW) (July 2012)

History Abounds in Arts Club Naming Sophia Siskel to Board Chair,” Crain’s Chicago Business (October 31, 2011)

Growth Futures,” Northwestern Magazine (spring 2011)

Botanic Garden plans $250 mil. of new growth,” Crain’s Chicago Business (April 12, 2010)

In Winter Gardens, A Marriage of Botany & Stark Beauty,” The New York Times (January 8, 2010)

Sophia Siskel ’99 provides a 100-year plan for enduring civic value,” Kellogg World Alumni Magazine (winter 2008)

University of Chicago Magazine (October 2007)

What Will an MBA Get You?Chicago Tribune (September 18, 2005)

“…Great Chicago Families,” Chicago Magazine (February 2005)

Field of Opportunity: Sophia Siskel ’99 Leads Chicago’s Field Museum Into 21st Century,” Kellogg World Alumni Magazine (summer 2003)

“Museum’s Goal: Saving the World’s Wild Places,” The New York Times (November 5, 2002)

40 Under 40,” Crain’s Chicago Business (November 4, 2002)

Frontlines,” Chicago (October 2002)

“Field Will Dip Science in Chocolate,” Chicago Sun-Times (March 11, 2001)

“Pure Exhibitionism,Chicago Reader (October 22, 1999)