Thunderbird’s Position in Our Hearts

By, David J Roman

Dr. Mansour Javidan was right when he opened Foundations saying, “We are the misfits.” In fact, along with other misfits, we feel we belong. That sense of security creates strong emotional connections to this place (or rather community) we call home, to a School founded over 70 years ago and the worldwide network of those who have been transformed by it. Thunderbird is in our hearts, and in our minds we attest to the power of global leaders equipped to help people thrive wherever they are.


In 1941, 5-star general Hap Arnold said, “It’s got to be done and done quickly, so let’s get it done.” He was referring to his initiative to launch an ambitious training program without Congressional approval. General Arnold’s success founded what would later become Thunderbird School of Global Management. His enterprising spirit in the face of bureaucratic barriers and many unknowns shines as an example of the T-Bird mystique.

What is mysterious about T-Birds? It is too broad to say simply we don’t fit in with most people. Perhaps more accurate is the statement that most people don’t understand why we seem incurably curious about our world and inconceivably comfortable with unpredictable situations.

Recent TSG interviews with current students have revealed that many are frustrated or discouraged by the challenges we face with ASU’s potential acquisition of Thunderbird.

However, other students are simply motivated by the challenge. One student commented that our program has suffered the symptoms of failing to adapt as quickly as competitors have copied our education model. They suggest that if we amplify our unique strengths we might regain prestige and momentum. But what are our unique strengths?

The book Thunderbird: Taking Flight in Global Leadership makes clear that our people and heritage are the most difficult things for our competitors to copy. The question is: how can we achieve significant, sustainable innovation that continues to build up our people and heritage to be truly spectacular?

Some students point out that being innovative costs money. In this area an arrangement like the ASU deal may bring advantages: new opportunities to expand our value to students and alumni, more financing to fuel growth, and a fresh angle on the program through unconventional partnerships.


Others will point out the difficulty in preserving the unique legacy of Thunderbird if it is attached to ASU, because much of Thunderbird’s historical uniqueness has been its distinct origin, campus, people, and unparalleled faculty. These students make it clear that something radical would be needed to prevent these aspects of Thunderbird’s intrigue from sinking into the predictability of a relatively homogenous federation of schools or an eroding observance of status quo.

In all of our hearts we want to add to Thunderbird’s heritage, by what we do and say now. What is clear is that we cannot use static methods to achieve different results in the future. It is encouraging that T-Birds naturally excel at conquering the unknown, exhilarated by the opportunity to take the curious and make it wonderful. Thunderbird is in our hearts, and I am confident it will be brightly in our futures.