Thunderbird School of Global Management

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Thunderbird School of Global Management
Thunderbird School of Global Management Seal.svg
Former name
American Institute for Foreign Trade
Established8 April 1946;74 years ago (1946-04-08)
Academic affiliation
Arizona State University
Dean Sanjeev Khagram
Location, ,
United States
Campus Urban
Colors Thunderbird Blue, Gold and Grey [1]
Thunderbird School of Global Management Logo.svg

Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University (Thunderbird) is a global management school in Phoenix, Arizona. Founded in 1946 as an independent, private institution, it was acquired by Arizona State University (ASU) in 2014. The school derives its name from Thunderbird Field No. 1, a decommissioned World War II-era US Army Air Forces base which served as its campus for more than 70 years. The school has since moved to ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus, and construction of a new, US$75 million building in downtown Phoenix is expected to be completed in 2021. [2] As of 2018, the school had around 45,000 alumni, [3] also referred to as "Thunderbirds" (or "T-Birds"). Thunderbird offers graduate-level degree programs at ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus, Executive Education courses at multiple locations, including Los Angeles and Washington, DC, and two undergraduate degrees with courses taught at ASU's West campus in Glendale, Arizona.



Early history

The American Institute for Foreign Trade was founded by Lt. Gen. Barton Kyle Yount, a US Army Air Forces (AAF) officer who purchased the former Thunderbird Field from the War Assets Administration for one dollar, subject to the condition that the property be used for educational purposes for a minimum of 10 years. This led to short-lived controversy as journalists questioned the propriety of the transaction. As head of the Army Air Training Command, Yount had been recruited to the project by two AAF colonels, Finley Peter Dunne, Jr. and W. Stouder Thompson, who considered that the United States was (in Dunne's words) "notoriously short of personnel trained for foreign trade." Yount agreed that "the young men who were going to foreign countries to represent American business were, in many cases, entirely untrained and unfit to represent their firms and their government." [4] The school was chartered as a nonprofit Arizona corporation on April 8, 1946. Over the next six months, Yount and Dunne (Thompson having departed the project) prepared the Glendale location, arranged financing, remodeled the physical plant (which included several airplane hangars and a control tower), and recruited faculty and students. Students were required to be "at least twenty years of age who, through study in college or the armed forces, have completed at least two years above high school, or the equivalent thereof." [5] This last provision was interpreted to allow military or work experience to substitute for formal university study.

Classes officially began on October 1, 1946, with 285 students and 18 faculty members. (Early catalogues give these figures as 296 and 22, respectively.) 98% of the students attended on the G.I. Bill (provision was also made for the "instruction of wives"). The first certificates were awarded June 14, 1947. The program mixed business courses with instruction in Spanish or Portuguese languages and Latin American culture, for a "tripartite curriculum" consisting of international commerce, languages, and area studies. Course offerings soon expanded to include French language and Western European and "Far Eastern" area studies. Students wishing to earn a BBA could transfer their credits to the University of Houston. In 1951, Thunderbird began granting the Bachelor of Foreign Trade to students who already possessed undergraduate degrees, or at least three years of coursework, while the others continued to be awarded certificates. [6] Thunderbird thus became one of the first tertiary institutions to offer international business degrees.

A Master of Foreign Trade degree began to be offered in 1952, and required four semesters of study, in contrast to two semesters for the bachelors. (This replaced an earlier system which distinguished between Course I and Course II of the bachelor's degree, the latter being more specialized and requiring one or two additional semesters.) Over the following decades, the master's degree—renamed the Master of International Management (MIM)--came to dominate, while the undergraduate program was phased out (and ceased to be awarded by 1975). The school accordingly changed its name to the "Thunderbird Graduate School of International Management" (in 1967), and then to the "American Graduate School of International Management" (in 1973). [7] The American Management Association entered into some sort of relationship with the school, while the North Central Association granted Thunderbird regional accreditation in 1969 and 1974. Accreditation by the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business proved more elusive (and would not be granted until 1994), since Thunderbird did not then award the MBA degree, and indeed emphasized the "difference of degree" in its marketing materials.

Over the 1970s and 1980s, enrollment rose to more than 1000, while Thunderbird's endowment also grew, reaching US$1 million in 1982 (and $20 million in the late 1990s). At the same time, Thunderbird began to experience competition from other American (and ultimately, foreign) business schools as international business increasingly became a mainstream subject. Thunderbird's relative poverty, and lack of affiliation with a full-fledged university, proved significant disadvantages, even as interest in business education skyrocketed during the Reagan administration.

1990s and 2000s

Beginning in the 1990s, the school went by the name Thunderbird, the American Graduate School of International Management. [8] After reaching a peak enrollment of around 1,600 in the 1990s, Thunderbird saw declining enrollment numbers in the 2000s. [9] The school also saw a decline in the number of foreign students enrolled as a result of stricter visa rules enacted following the deadly terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. [10] Roughly half of Thunderbird's students are citizens of a country other than the U.S. This makeup is a major asset to the school because students are immersed in a group of cohorts from all over the world, which helps instill the school's celebrated Global Mindset. However, after 9/11 it became increasingly difficult for many overseas students to get permission to study in the United States, and that situation had a highly adverse impact on Thunderbird's enrollment. The global financial crisis of 2008 had a similarly harmful effect on Thunderbird's enrollment as students from overseas found it more difficult to afford studying abroad.

In 2001, the school began to offer a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in International Management, replacing the previously offered Master of International Management.[ citation needed ] Three years later, the school changed its name to Thunderbird, the Garvin School of International Management, following a $13 million donation (part of a pledge that was originally planned to be $60 million) [11] from alumnus Samuel Garvin. The same year, the school hired Ángel Cabrera to serve as president. [12] Cabrera oversaw the school's 2006 adoption of their Professional Oath of Honor. The oath was developed with input from students and faculty and was considered by the school to be the first of its kind for business schools. Students sign the pledge upon graduation promising to act ethically and honestly in the business world (similar to the Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors). [13] [14] [15]

Garvin's name was removed from the school's name in 2007. The school began to use the name Thunderbird School of Global Management, to focus on the Thunderbird brand and highlight the school's focus on global business. [16] [17] At this time, Garvin's name was given to the newly created position, the Garvin Distinguished Professor of Global Management Research, and was still used for the Garvin Center of Cultures and Languages of International Management and the Garvin Professorship of Entrepreneurship. [16] [17] As part of the transition to the new name, the school adopted a logo of a mythical thunderbird with a globe-shaped body. Incidentally, the thunderbird of Native American mythology closely resembles the phoenix of Greek mythology, which Arizona's capital city is named for. [17]


In 2011, after efforts by a Thunderbird alumnus, Arizona began selling Thunderbird license plates. [18] The following year, Larry Penley became the president of Thunderbird. [19]

In March 2013, the school announced a planned partnership with Laureate Education, Inc. [20] As part of the planned partnership, Thunderbird would remain a nonprofit organization, exempt from income tax as a 501(c)(3), [20] [21] but would establish a joint educational service company with Laureate, a for-profit company. This joint company would launch an undergraduate program and expand online programs. Undergraduate students would attend Thunderbird for the final year of their undergraduate degree program. [21] [22] The planned partnership would allow Thunderbird to host events at Laureate campuses worldwide and establish Thunderbird campuses abroad. The school announced Paris, Madrid, Brazil and Chile as potential sites. [20] [23] [24] [25] According to the school, Laureate would have no influence over its academic decisions. Thunderbird would also retain degree-awarding powers. [21] [23] [25] However, Laureate would be given three seats on the school's board. [20] [21]

Under the agreement, Thunderbird would sell its campus to Laureate in a leaseback agreement. The school would continue to operate from its Glendale campus, but would use the money from the sale to pay off its debts. [20] [21] [25] Thunderbird alumni would have the option to purchase the campus from Laureate within two years or the school may repurchase the campus at the end of the twenty-year lease agreement. [20] As well, Laureate and Thunderbird had planned to invest $20 million and $10 million respectively to provide for campus improvements. [20] [25]

The proposed agreement was protested by some Thunderbird alumni and board members who expressed concern about the impact that the partnership would have on the school's reputation. [21] [22] [23] Many alumni felt the Laureate partnership would diminish the value of a Thunderbird degree. In response, alumni in opposition of the proposed agreement signed an online petition in protest. [20] [21] [22] Additionally, some alumni formed the Thunderbird Independent Alumni Association, which expressed concerns over the agreement. [21] Following the announcement of the planned agreement, five Thunderbird board members and seven members of the Thunderbird Alumni Network board resigned. [23] [26] The proposed agreement was also supported by other alumni and faculty whose statements were presented on the school's website. [21] [26]

The planned structure change was approved by the school's board in June 2013, although The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the school's regional accreditor, did not approve the proposal. [21] [23] [25] Thunderbird had stated that they anticipated that the agreement would be approved, as other Laureate schools are accredited through the Commission. [21]

As of January 2014, the school's president was Larry Penley [25] [27] and the school employed 48 faculty members. [28] Later that year, Allen J. Morrison was appointed CEO and Director General of Thunderbird. [29]

The following year, the school finalized an agreement with Arizona State University to be integrated in a manner similar to a college within the university. [30] Three years later, in 2018, ASU appointed Sanjeev Khagram as director general and dean of Thunderbird. [31]

In October 2019, ASU and Thunderbird held a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the start of construction on Thunderbird's new global headquarters facility adjacent to ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law on the Downtown Phoenix campus. The first classes in the new building will be held in the fall semester of 2021 when Thunderbird is celebrating its 75th anniversary.

Status within ASU

Thunderbird is described as a "unit of the Arizona State University Knowledge Enterprise." A unit, in contrast to a school or college (but like an "institute"), is said to be focused broadly, developing and disseminating knowledge throughout ASU. Accordingly, Thunderbird retains its own logo and other distinctive marketing dress. [32]


Thunderbird's degrees have historically included the Bachelor of Foreign Trade (until 1975), the Master of International Management (until 2001), an MBA in Global Management (through 2016)[ citation needed ], and executive education programs. Since its acquisition by ASU, Thunderbird has revived the undergraduate program (the Bachelor of Global Management; its students are called "Underbirds"), phased out the MBA (which the Carey School already offered), and introduced the Master of Global Management, a non-MBA graduate degree with a number of formal concentrations. The school also offers a Micromasters program and certificate.


Business school rankings
Worldwide MBA
Business Insider [33] 41
U.S. News & World Report [34] 88

Forbes ranked Thunderbird as the 54th best business school in the U.S. in 2011, [35] and a 2012 report released by Bloomberg Businessweek ranked Thunderbird as the top international business program. [36] Thunderbird was also ranked as the 5th most diverse school out of 82 schools surveyed, based on student responses about students' country of origin, gender and ethnicity. [37] In 2013, The Financial Times ranked Thunderbird's executive education program ninth overall based on corporate client feedback to The Financial Times. [38] Also in 2013, The Economist released ratings for online programs and gave Thunderbird a rating of "good", which was one step down from the publication's top rating of "excellent". [39] In its 2014 rankings, published in 2013, U.S. News & World Report ranked Thunderbird as the best international business school in their annual rankings, marking the eighteenth consecutive year the school was named top international business program. [36] In U.S. News & World Report's 2015 rankings, published in 2014, Thunderbird was ranked 85th for best business school, and second in the overall rankings for international business school. [40] [41]

According to a 2019 Times Higher Education/Wall Street Journal report, Thunderbird is currently ranked number 1 in the world in Masters in Management programs for its specialized Masters in Global Management (MGM) degree. [42]


Thunderbird International Business Review is one of several journals published by the school (six times a year).


The original Thunderbird campus was located on the former World War II airfield Thunderbird Field No. 1. Located in Glendale, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, the airfield was built in 1941 and was used to train pilots. [43] [44] The school has utilized the existing buildings on the airfield and many of the school's classrooms are located in the airfield's former barracks. [43] Arizona Christian University is the new owner and occupant of Thunderbird's former campus in Glendale.

The airfield's air traffic control tower is still present on campus. Beginning in 2007, the tower underwent a restoration project at the urging of three Thunderbird students who raised $2.5 million for the project. The school was awarded the Ruth Bryne Historic Preservation Award by the city of Glendale for the renovation. The tower was occupied by the campus store, student lounges and a pub until the school relocated to Phoenix. [44] Thunderbird's new building will feature a rooftop pub designed in the spirit of the iconic original.

In 2011, one of the then-70-year-old airplane hangars on campus was removed. The building, named the Thunderbird Activity Center by the school, had been used for special events and exams, but was determined to no longer meet safety standards following an inspection of the campus. [44]

Thunderbird also has satellite Centers for Excellence in Moscow, Russia, Dubai, UAE, Geneva, Switzerland, Jakarta, Indonesia and Tokyo, Japan.[ citation needed ] The school has plans to open several new satellite Centers for Excellence (hub offices) in the next few years with a goal to have a global network of 20 satellite hubs by the year 2025. The hubs will support professional English education, recruiting, alumni and community engagement, and executive education. All the hubs will be connected to the global headquarters facility in downtown Phoenix using the latest digital technology, including virtual reality and augmented reality. The goal is for the headquarters to function as a digital and physical space that will connect the school's global network of 45,000 alumni with students, faculty, and staff.

Other buildings on the original campus included the International Business Information Centre (IBIC), which was Thunderbird's library, and a dining hall for students. The school's campus also featured a Welcome Wall, which was built in 1992, and displayed greetings in different languages. [13]

On December 12, 2017 ASU announced that Thunderbird's historical campus will be closed and the school will be moved to a more modern facility in downtown Phoenix. As part of the move, the City of Phoenix agreed to invest $13.5M in the new building, a record investment for Thunderbird. [45] ASU and Thunderbird are covering the remaining cost of the $75 million facility using funds from tuition and sale of land that ASU owns, including the old Glendale campus and another parcel in nearby Scottsdale.


Students, alumni and faculty are often referred to as Thunderbirds or T-birds. [43] [12] Undergraduates call themselves "Underbirds." Students run a school newspaper named Das Tor. [46] For over 50 years, all graduates have been required to take a minimum of 4 semesters of foreign language or demonstrate equivalent proficiency. [47] Other student activities include Thunderbird's several sports clubs. One of the longest lasting is the Thunderbird Rugby Football Club, founded in 1976. The club regularly hosts a tournament, the Thunderbird Rugby Invitational, with other business schools from around the U.S.[ citation needed ]

Every year, one student of the graduating class is awarded the Barton Kyle Yount Award in honor of the school's founder and first president. The award is determined on the basis of scholarship, accomplishment and character.[ citation needed ]


Thunderbird has a number of notable graduates, including Walid Chammah, former chairman of Morgan Stanley; [20] Bob Dudley, the retired CEO of BP; [20] and Luis Alberto Moreno, former Ambassador of Colombia to the United States and the current president of the Inter-American Development Bank. [48] Lee Abbamonte, the youngest American to visit all 193 United Nations member states, graduated in 2010. [49] Ramon Laguarta is currently the CEO of PepsiCo. [50] Also Carlos Neuhaus, who headed the 2019 Lima Panamerican Games. A full list of notable alumni is posted on Thunderbird's website.

Thunderbird has approximately 45,000 alumni who work for more than 12,000 different organizations across 150 countries. [16] [20]

See also

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