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
TypePublic business school
Established8 April 1946; 76 years ago (1946-04-08)
Parent institution
Arizona State University
DeanSanjeev Khagram
Location, ,
United States
ColorsThunderbird Blue, Gold and Grey[1]
Thunderbird School of Global Management Logo.svg

Thunderbird School of Global Management (or simply Thunderbird) is a public business school of Arizona State University 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 name alludes to the thunderbird of Native American mythology, as well as the phoenix for which the city is named.) The school moved to ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus in 2018,[2] and then to a new, US$75 million building in 2021.

Thunderbird is a unit of the Arizona State University Enterprise.[3][4] Its programs are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).[5]

As of 2018, the school had around 45,000 alumni,[6] also referred to as "Thunderbirds" (or "T-Birds").


Founding as a private institution (1946-2014)[edit]

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."[7] 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."[8] 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. 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.[9] 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 (bachelors degrees 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.

In 1953, the school logo (which had been affixed to several repurposed aircraft hangars) allegedly inspired the name of the U.S. Air Force demonstration flight team, the Thunderbirds.[10]

The first foreign students enrolled in 1958, and their proportion steadily increased until 9-11, reaching some 60% of the student body.

In 1965, the U.S. Department of Commerce awarded the school the President's "E" Certificate for Export Service (later upgraded to an "E-star" ranking). A small flag signifying this flew in front of the school for decades.[11]

Under the presidency of Arthur L. Peterson (served 1966-69), Thunderbird received regional accreditation; the size of the student body doubled (to 503 in 1967); and several significant building projects were undertaken, including a library. A pilot, Peterson was known for landing his plane on Thunderbird field.[12][13]

William Voris (served 1971–1989) established overseas study programs in several foreign countries, including cooperative agreements with the Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM) and the Beijing Institute of Foreign Trade (1980).[14] He also organized the school's first executive education programs.[15]

The Thunderbird Hot Air Balloon Classic was first held in 1975, on the Thunderbird campus itself (which had been designed as an airfield). The event became an annual festival featuring student-run food-booths and the like. It was moved off-campus in 1989 and cancelled after 2006.[16]

Enrollments steadily rose to a peak of about 1,600 in 1992.[17] Meanwhile 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. After 1992 Thunderbird's enrollment began to decline, dropping below 600 in 2003, and necessitating faculty and staff cuts in 2001 and 2004. This trend was exacerbated by the September 11 attacks, which led to stricter visa rules for foreign students;[18] by the decline in the popularity of MBA study during the dot-com bubble; and by the Great Recession.

In 2001, Thunderbird began to offer an MBA in International Management, replacing the previously offered Master of International Management (MIM) degree.[19] In 2004, the school changed its name to "Thunderbird, the Garvin School of International Management" following a $60 million pledge by alumnus Sam Garvin and his wife Rita (only part of which was ultimately donated).[20] The same year, the school hired Ángel Cabrera to serve as president.[21] Cabrera oversaw the school's 2006 adoption of a Professional Oath of Honor.[22][23][24]

In 2007, the school again changed its name to the "Thunderbird School of Global Management."[25][26]

Laureate controversy[edit]

In 2012, Larry Penley became president of Thunderbird,[27] and was forced to make further faculty and staff reductions.[28] The following year, the school announced a planned partnership with Laureate Education, Inc.[29] As part of the planned partnership, Thunderbird would remain a nonprofit organization, exempt from income tax as a 501(c)(3),[29][30] 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.[30][31] The planned partnership would allow Thunderbird to host events at Laureate campuses worldwide and establish Thunderbird campuses abroad.[29][32][33][34] According to the agreement, although Laureate would be given three seats on Thunderbird's board,[29][30] Thunderbird would retain its academic independence and degree-granting powers.[30][32][34] Thunderbird would continue to operate from its Glendale campus, but would sell its campus to Laureate in a leaseback agreement, and use the money from the sale to pay off its debts.[29][30][34] (Thunderbird alumni would have the option to purchase the campus from Laureate within two years, or the school could repurchase the campus at the end of the twenty-year lease agreement.)[29] Also, Laureate and Thunderbird had planned to invest $20 million and $10 million respectively in campus improvements.[29][34]

A number of Thunderbird alumni, and several board members, opposed the proposed partnership on the grounds that it would harm the school's reputation,[30][31][32] and circulated a petition in protest.[29][30][31] The Thunderbird Independent Alumni Association (not to be confused with the school-managed Thunderbird Alumni Network) was formed in the midst of the controversy.[30] There were board resignations.[32][35]

Although the proposal was approved by Thunderbird's board in June 2013, it was ultimately rejected by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Thunderbird's's regional accreditor.[30][32][34] Since Thunderbird was then in an advanced state of financial exigency, attention naturally focused on acquisition by ASU, which expressed willingness to proceed.

As part of Arizona State University (2014-present)[edit]

Negotiations with ASU president Michael M. Crow concluded within months, with the new plan winning swift approval from both boards as well as the Higher Learning Commission. Under the plan, finalized in December 2014, ASU assumed Thunderbird's debts of $22 million, and received $20 million from Thunderbird's operating fund to stabilize its finances. ASU also acquired Thunderbird's Glendale campus (then estimated to be worth $20 million).[36]

In 2015, ASU appointed Allen J. Morrison as CEO and Director General of Thunderbird.[37] Since ASU already had an MBA program (the W. P. Carey School of Business, it was decided to phase out the Thunderbird MBA in favor of a Master of Global Management, a one-year program similar to the school's former Master of International Management degree (offered prior to 2001). Also, an undergraduate program not offered since 1975 was recreated.

In 2018, ASU appointed Sanjeev Khagram as director general and dean of Thunderbird.[38]

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 were held in the fall semester of 2021, when Thunderbird celebrated its 75th anniversary.

Name changes[edit]

  • 1946–1968: The American Institute for Foreign Trade (AIFT)
  • 1968–1973: Thunderbird Graduate School of International Management (TGSIM)
  • 1973–1997: The American Graduate School of International Management (AGSIM)
  • 1997–2004: Thunderbird, the American Graduate School of International Management
  • 2004–2007: Thunderbird, the Garvin School of International Management
  • 2007-current: Thunderbird School of Global Management

Thunderbird presidents and directors general[edit]

Thunderbird presidents:

  • Barton Kyle Yount (1947–49)
  • William Lytle Schurz (1949-52[?])
  • Ed Juliber (1952–53)
  • Carl Sauer (1953–66)
  • Arthur L. Peterson (1966–69)
  • Robert F. Delaney (1970–71)
  • William Voris (1971–89)
  • Roy A. Herberger (1989–2004)
  • Ángel Cabrera (2004–2012)
  • Barbara Barrett, (Apr - Nov 2012)
  • Larry E. Penley (2012-2015)

Directors general (under ASU):

  • Allen J. Morrison (2015-2018)
  • Sanjeev Khagram (2018–present)


Thunderbird's degrees have historically included the Bachelor of Foreign Trade (1951-1975), the Master of Foreign Trade / Master of International Management (1952-2001), an MBA in Global Management (2001-2016), 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. Degrees currently offered include:

Undergraduate degrees:

  • Bachelor of Global Management
  • Bachelor of Science in International Trade (with a quantitative focus)
  • Online Bachelor of Global Management
  • Online Bachelor of Science in International Trade

Two tracks are offered: one consisting of international business, language, and culture; and another which omits language (including all online programs).

Graduate degrees:

  • Accelerated Masters (allowing Thunderbird undergraduates to complete a masters in one further year)
  • Master of Global Management (the flagship degree)
  • Master of Applied Leadership and Management
  • Master of Arts in Global Affairs and Management: Creative Industries
  • Executive Master of Global Management
  • Executive Master of Global Management: Space Leadership, Business, and Policy
  • Executive Master of Arts in Global Affairs and Management

Other executive education and lifelong learning options are offered as well.


Business Rankings
U.S. News & World Report (2023)[39]88

Forbes ranked Thunderbird as the 54th best business school in the U.S. in 2011,[40] and a 2012 report released by Bloomberg Businessweek ranked Thunderbird as the top international business program.[41] 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.[42] In 2013, The Financial Times ranked Thunderbird's executive education program ninth overall based on corporate client feedback to The Financial Times.[43] 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".[44] 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.[41] 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.[45][46]

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.[47]


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.[48][49] 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.[48] 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.[49] 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.[49]

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.[22]

On December 12, 2017 ASU announced that Thunderbird's historical campus will be closed and the school will be moved to a 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.[50] ASU and Thunderbird are covering the remaining cost of the $75 million facility using funds from fundraising, including the old Glendale campus and another parcel in nearby Scottsdale.


Students, alumni and faculty are often referred to as Thunderbirds or T-birds.[48][21] Undergraduates call themselves "Underbirds." Students in the Executive Master of Global Management: Space Leadership, Business, and Policy degree are known as “Spacebirds.”Students run a school newspaper named Das Tor.[51] For over 50 years, all graduates have been required to take a minimum of 4 semesters of foreign language or demonstrate equivalent proficiency.[52] 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]

Notable alumni[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Thunderbird Brand Usage Guidelines" (PDF). Thunderbird School of Global Management. Arizona State University. 2018. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  2. ^ "ASU will move student classes". Retrieved 2019-05-15.
  3. ^ "Research and innovation at Arizona State University | Knowledge Enterprise".
  4. ^ Chelsea A. Olson, "Thunderbird, a unit of the Arizona State University Knowledge Enterprise: What does that really mean?" Article in Das Tor (Thunderbird student newspaper), 1 Jan. 2015. Reprinted on pp. 44 ff of "Thunderbird Magazine". Arizona Memory Project. 18 May 2016.
  5. ^ "Rankings & Accreditation | Thunderbird School of Global Management".
  6. ^ "Thunderbird alumni gather to say goodbye to their iconic campus". Arizona State University. April 8, 2018. Retrieved 2018-06-12.
  7. ^ a b "50th Anniversary 1995".
  8. ^ "1946–1947, the American Institute for Foreign Trade, first bulletin". Thunderbird School of Global Management Course Catalogs. 15 May 2019. hdl:2286/R.I.39691.
  9. ^ "1951–1952, the American Institute for Foreign Trade, catalogue". Thunderbird School of Global Management Course Catalogs. 15 May 2019. hdl:2286/R.I.39696.
  10. ^ Arizona Memory Project : Item Viewer
  11. ^ Arizona Memory Project : Item Viewer
  12. ^ Former president discusses ‘doing good while doing well’ | Thunderbird for Good
  13. ^ Arizona Memory Project : Item Viewer
  14. ^ Arizona Memory Project : Item Viewer
  15. ^ Arizona Memory Project : Item Viewer
  16. ^ Arizona Memory Project : Item Viewer
  17. ^ Eun-Kyung Kim (25 October 1992). "School teaches business students to think and act like foreigners". Associated Press. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  18. ^ "News from the schools — Thunderbird a-go-go?". The Economist. 16 December 2005. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  19. ^ See p. 22 of
  20. ^ Taylor Ellis (11 July 2013). "Inside Thunderbird B-school's chronic decline". Archived from the original on 22 January 2014. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  21. ^ a b "T-Bird Goes to Spain for a Chief". Bloomberg Businessweek. 28 April 2004. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  22. ^ a b Mandy Oaklander. "Thunderbird: A Virtual Tour". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  23. ^ Francesca Di Meglio (23 September 2006). "A Crooked Path Through B-School?". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  24. ^ "News from the schools — I'll be good, I promise". The Economist. 25 September 2006. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  25. ^ Angela Gonzales (5 February 2007). "Thunderbird school changes name as it seizes new opportunities". Phoenix Business Journal. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  26. ^ Della Bradshaw (6 February 2007). "Thunderbird drops Garvin name". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 2013-10-14. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  27. ^ Mike Sunnucks (12 April 2013). "Executive profile: Parlaying education experience into new challenges". Phoenix Business Journal. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  28. ^ Francesca Di Meglio (12 March 2013). "Thunderbird Curriculum Overhaul Trims MBA to Size". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Melissa Korn (9 July 2013). "Struggling Thunderbird Business School Finds a For-Profit Lifeline". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  30. ^ a b c d e f g h i Elizabeth Redden; Paul Fain (10 October 2013). "Going Global". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  31. ^ a b c Matt Symonds (15 July 2013). "Thunderbird: A Case Study for B-School Managers". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  32. ^ a b c d e Louis Lavelle (30 July 2013). "In Wake of Laureate Deal, Thunderbird Board Exodus Continues". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  33. ^ B.R. (8 July 2013). "Thunderbirds have gone". The Economist. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  34. ^ a b c d e Della Bradshaw (10 July 2013). "Thunderbird to teach MBA in Paris and Madrid with Laureate". Financial Times. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  35. ^ Louis Lavelle (30 September 2013). "Thunderbird Alumni Board Members Quit". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  36. ^ "ASU Completes Deal for Thunderbird". 19 December 2014.
  37. ^ "CEO and Director General: Meet Dr. Morrison – Das Tor". Das Tor. 2015-02-12. Retrieved 2018-07-02.
  38. ^ "ASU appoints new dean, director-general of Thunderbird School of Global Management". ASU Now: Access, Excellence, Impact. 2018-04-02. Retrieved 2018-07-02.
  39. ^ "2023 Best Business Schools Rankings". U.S. News & World Report.
  40. ^ Kurt Badenhausen (3 August 2011). "The Best U.S. Business Schools". Forbes. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  41. ^ a b Mike Sunnucks (14 March 2013). "Thunderbird named No. 1 international business school". Phoenix Business Journal. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  42. ^ Geoff Gloeckler (28 January 2013). "MBA Rankings: Top Schools for Diversity". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  43. ^ Angela Gonzales (13 May 2013). "Thunderbird School ranked by Financial Times among best for business". Phoenix Business Journal. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  44. ^ John A. Byrne (28 May 2013). "America's Top Online MBA Programs". Poets & Quants. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  45. ^ "Best Business Schools". U.S. News & World Report. 2014. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  46. ^ "Best International Business Schools". U.S. News & World Report. 2014. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  47. ^ "Thunderbird global management degree named No. 1 in business schools report". ASU Now: Access, Excellence, Impact. 6 December 2018.
  48. ^ a b c Mike McCloy (11 June 1978). "Businessmen in training to be effective abroad". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  49. ^ a b c Kristena Hansen (27 August 2011). "Glendale Thunderbird School of Global Management tears down World War II-era hangar". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  50. ^ "Phoenix approves $13.5M investment to move ASU grad school downtown". 5 April 2018.
  51. ^ "About Das Tor". Das Tor. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  52. ^ Uber Grosse, Christine (Autumn 2004). "The Competitive Advantage of Foreign Languages and Cultural Knowledge". The Modern Language Journal. 88 (3): 351–373. doi:10.1111/j.0026-7902.2004.00234.x. JSTOR 3588783.
  53. ^ Buzgar, Alina (February 12, 2015). "Living the Dream: Lee Abbamonte". Thunderbird School of Global Management. Das Tor. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  54. ^ "Joaquin Duato". Retrieved 2022-05-17.
  55. ^ "Ramon Laguarta Elected Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo". Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  56. ^ "Jonathan Singh becomes youngest Thunderbird graduate". Phoenix Business Journal. 15 December 2008. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  57. ^ "Sven Ombudstvedt". Retrieved 2020-11-30.
  58. ^ "Michael O. Slobodchikoff". 10 January 2022.
  59. ^ "Alumni Mark Smucker '96". Thunderbird School of Global Management. Retrieved August 1, 2020.
  60. ^ "Revathi Advaithi, Chief Executive Officer - CEO | Flex".

External links[edit]