The Sun Devil Mystique

By, Rick Beitman

After a number of tumultuous fiscal years and the future uncertain for Thunderbird School of Global Management, many have waited with bated breath as to what the impending merger with Arizona State University would spell for the Glendale institution. Students finally got much awaited answers to their questions on Friday, October 4, with the visit of ASU president, Dr. Michael Crow.

 

At 3:30 PM, Dr. Crow addressed a student audience in the AT&T Auditorium of the Herberger Administration Building. This was the first public forum between Dr. Crow and the Thunderbird community since merger talks commenced in July 2014. – ASU emerged as a potential partner after the March 2014 denial of the Laureate transaction by the Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

 

Even though the transaction between ASU and Thunderbird has not closed yet, Dr. Crow detailed what the arrangement might look like. There were a myriad of concerns such as degree programs, the brand, and the fate of the Thunderbird campus. In his informal style and occasionally humorous candor, Dr. Crow stood in front of the podium and managed to allay many of the concerns of students, whom he referred to as “consumers and buyers”. He stated that Thunderbird is a “unique jewel” and that, “It should be protected and advanced.”

 

Thunderbird will maintain its unique brand and become another school within Arizona State University, which already has fifteen schools. Each school holds its own identity, such as the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, the W. P. Carey School of Business, or the Herberger Institute for Design and Arts. – The “new Thunderbird” would have a board of trustees and a university management committee, headed by Dr. Crow. The university management committee would liaise between Thunderbird and the larger ASU community.

 

As the W. P. Carey School of Business offers a MBA, the Thunderbird MBA will be renamed, likely as a Masters of Global Management (MGM). Dr. Crow, who is a former provost of Columbia University, stated that programs change all the time. ASU intends to be deliberative with any program changes and wants to add value to Thunderbird degree programs. – The traditional MBA program at Thunderbird was once called a Masters of International Management. Thus, names do change, but the program itself and its reputation are more substantive.

 

While the focus has been on programs and not facilities, there are no immediate plans to move the Thunderbird campus, as ASU is “sensitive to issues of culture”. Dr. Crow intends to “build a cultural bubble” around Thunderbird. He referred to the Glendale campus as a “fantastic site” where the enterprise has been “nurtured”. He said, “Campus is here, it works, and it doesn’t appear to be overcrowded.” Noting that there is unused land adjacent to campus, there exists the possibility for expansion and development of other global opportunities through ASU. Of course, there are no long-term guarantees. – Thunderbird would become the fifth ASU campus alongside ASU Tempe, ASU Downtown Phoenix, ASU Polytechnic, and neighboring ASU West.

 

The deal, Dr. Crow stated, will relieve financial stress and allow Thunderbird to focus on its core competencies while ASU lowers the cost basis. However, ASU brings many more tangible benefits to the table, not just financial security to Thunderbird. T-Birds will have access to ASU career services and other resources. An entrepreneurial institution, ASU continues to increase its scope of opportunity with an educational partnership with Starbucks and a partnership with Pearson Education to expand ASU Online. T-Birds will join a comprehensive public research university and a larger community of over 80,000 students.  In turn, Thunderbird brings its expertise in the niche of international business and its executive education programs.

 

All of this is good news for Thunderbird. Dr. Crow’s track record with his development of ASU indicates he has the “Midas touch”. He is very conscientious of the uniqueness of the Thunderbird brand (or mystique) and met with Thunderbird alumni in London the day before the forum and intends to meet more alumni next month in Hong Kong. Of course, only time will tell if integration successfully protects the brand.

 

ASU is a “future-oriented place” according to Dr. Crow. While the future is still uncertain, it does appear brighter. The eight design aspirations of the New American University align well with Thunderbird’s mission. While both institutions are local to Arizona, they will go global together. – ASU, the New American University is about to become the New Global University.

Bala Rajendran

Bala Rajendran

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