I first learned about Thunderbird School of Global Management in 7th grade. In a small suburb in Northwest Ohio, I was at the school cafeteria getting a physical to go out for the cross country team. The nurse was making small talk as she checked my vitals, asking me what I was interested in and what I wanted to be when I grew up. My response was that I loved all things international and was thinking about global business.
What she said next would shape the course of my life… “You should go to Thunderbird in Arizona. Someone I know went there and told me it was the place for global business.”
I never saw that nurse again – and don’t even remember her name. However, her words echoed in my mind through high school and college, during my first professional role as Territory Sales Manager at Goodyear in Chicago, and on to the Peace Corps, where I spent two years in business development in Nicaragua.
Finally, the time came to apply. My application was completed through a series of iterations on dusty old computers in the NGOs I worked with in Jinotega, Nicaragua. I finally put on the finishing touches at the Peace Corps office in Managua after the bumpy, 3-hour bus ride.
Going to the school opened me up to a world of possibilities – and to a network of like-minded alumni like none other. Alumni reunions, held periodically around the world, are like picking up with an old friend right where you left off… even if you’re meeting the alumnus you’re talking with for the first time. Widely known as the “Thunderbird mystique,” there is a common bond that connects us that knows no walls or boundaries.
Unfortunately, over the course of the post 9/11 era, the school lost its way and became lost amidst the scores of others that had begun offering these types of programs. The model of a stand-alone, single-focused graduate school had become obsolete. After many challenges, we merged with neighboring Arizona State University (ASU).
Enter on the scene Dr. Sanjeev Khagram, a visionary with a true T-bird story of arriving in the U.S. as a refugee from Idi Amin's Uganda in 1973. Finding success from the ground up himself, his web of accomplishments led him to be appointed Director-General and Dean of Thunderbird in 2018. Introduced to our alumni organization by ASU President Dr. Michael Crow as “a decorated academic who knows how to get things done,” Sanjeev has helped us harness the spirit of Thunderbird once again.
At a recent alumni advisory board meeting with TGAN (Thunderbird Global Alumni Network), I joined a team of dedicated alumni from all over the world. There, we saw the cement being poured on our new building in downtown Phoenix… rising again out of the ashes in the true symbolism of the phoenix itself. Leveraging the best of what both Thunderbird and ASU have the offer – from partnerships with the neighboring law school to data analytics to space exploration with Dr. Lindy Elkins – we are embodying the 4th industrial revolution and beyond.
However, ultimately the Thunderbird mystique has never really been a place, but a global mindset and bond of like-minded individuals. Following our private event at the Phoenix Art Museum, we were standing outside, arranging for the continuation of our evening. Walking along by happenstance was an alumnus I had met at the Thunderbird Tokyo reunion last year. Recognizing each other instantly, it didn’t take much coaxing to get him to come along with the group of us. Meeting up with several other alumni and current students, we expanded to occupy a long table that took over a large section of the establishment. We began to exchange Thunderbird stories. There, I was reminded that my story is not unlike many others’ who learned of the school and believed in its mystique before they even set foot on campus.
To Thunderbirds far and wide: alumni, honorary alumni, current students, and those who hope to be… We are rising up in our orbit on the wings of the future – the present moment looks bright indeed!