philosopher • thought leader

Peter Koestenbaum, Ph.D. is a German-American philosophy academic. He is the founder and chairman of Philosophy-in-Business™ and the Koestenbaum Institute. He has consulted on leadership, management, marketing, and strategy implementation in nearly forty countries.

Koestenbaum was born to Jewish parents Ernst and Ilse on April 6, 1928 and raised in Berlin, Germany. He describes jumping on his bed at the age of six and telling his mother that he wanted to become a philosopher. He remembers being 10 yards away from Adolf Hitler as Hitler led a military parade in 1936. “I was scared to death. I knew it was bad.” Koestenbaum’s family moved to Caracas, Venezuela in 1937 prior to Kristallnacht, the night of widespread attacks on Jewish businesses throughout Germany that presaged the Holocaust. 

In Venezuela, Ernst Koestenbaum went door to door selling products without being able to speak Spanish to support his family. Presbyterian leaders educated Koestenbaum in a safe environment, while Ernst hoped that Peter would become a coffee farmer.

In 1945, Koestenbaum, a brilliant student, matriculated to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California at the age of 17. At the time, Koestenbaum spoke German, Hebrew and Spanish, but not English. At Stanford he studied philosophy and physics and received a B.A. while working as a gardener in Palo Alto to support himself.

Koestenbaum received national media attention in the United States the in 1970s with his views on using the knowledge of one’s inevitable death to organize one’s life, and published books on the subject, including his most notable work called “The Vitality of Death“. He also co-authored two more books with notable American author Peter Block. 

He received a B.A. from Stanford University, an M.A. in philosophy from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Boston University. He also attended the University of California, Berkeley where he studied music and philosophy. He taught for 34 years in the philosophy department at San Jose State University where he won the Outstanding Professor Award for the 1969-1970 academic year.

Koestenbaum currently lives and works with his wife Patty in Carmel-By-The-Sea, California.

The Koestenbaum Institute
Leadership Diamond®

"Nothing is more practical than for people to deepen themselves."

Peter Koestenbaum founded important organizations to bring the strengthening and healing power of philosophy to leaders in multiple fields. In California, he founded an accredited institute for teachers, nurses, physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists teaching the uses of philosophy in education, psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy.

Eventually Koestenbaum decided to apply the insights he gained in philosophy and psychiatry to business: management, strategic thinking, marketing, but above all to leadership. This journey took Koestenbaum to over thirty-six countries in five continents. Among the firms where he worked with intensity are IBM, Electronic Data Systems, Ford, Ciba-Geigy (now Novartis), Citibank, Volvo, Amoco, Xerox, American Medical International (now Tenet HealthSystem), Warner Cosmetics, Statoil (Norway), Sparbanken Gruppen (Sweden), and many others.

Koestenbaum then founded the Koestenbaum Institute with Scandinavian business leader Rolf Falkenberg, headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, which conducted consulting, training, seminars and coaching, using its own resources and a worldwide network of partners; and Philosophy-in-Business™, to create a “win-win” in the New Economy by taking a fresh and deep approach to the clash between two imperatives of our time: business results and human values.

From a February 2000 profile in “Fast Company”:

“More than 25 years ago, Koestenbaum traded the cloistered halls of academia for the front lines of the global economy. It’s not unheard-of for this philosopher, now a tireless 71-year-old with thick glasses and a flowing beard, to visit clients across three continents in a single week. His agenda: to apply the power of philosophy to the big question of the day — how to reconcile the often-brutal realities of business with basic human values — and to create a new language of effective leadership. “Unless the distant goals of meaning, greatness, and destiny are addressed,” Koestenbaum insists, “we can’t make an intelligent decision about what to do tomorrow morning — much less set strategy for a company or for a human life. Nothing is more practical than for people to deepen themselves. The more you understand the human condition, the more effective you are as a businessperson. Human depth makes business sense.””

"The person who you are in all areas of existence is something that you choose and create and are on your own, and will be judged for it."

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