Senator Jon Kyl Visits Thunderbird

By: Emma Livingston, Staff Writer

T-Birds attending Professor Roy Nelson’s Friday morning Global Political Economy session were treated to a speech by former U.S. Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, named by Time Magazine in 2012 as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world. Though, as the soft-spoken senator quipped, “There’s a lot of different types of influence. Others who were in the same Times article were Lady Gaga…”

Senator Kyl served for 12 years in the U.S. Senate where he was the minority whip, the second most powerful member of the Senate Republican caucus. Since retiring in 2013, he has worked as Senior of Counsel for the D.C. law firm Covington and Burling LLP where, according to his bio, “he advises companies on domestic and international policies that influence U.S. and multinational business.”

Senator Jon Kyl and Thunderbird GPE Professor Roy Nelson
(All photos courtesy of Savijeet Singh)

Senator Kyl is a contact of Thunderbird CEO, Dr. Allen Morrison, and when GPE Professor Nelson heard he was willing to speak in his class, “I jumped at this opportunity not only because of Senator Kyl’s excellent reputation, but also because this was an opportunity for the class to meet someone who actually helped shape the very issues we are studying in the course.”

The senator spoke about the intersection of business with politics, using Toyota’s  faulty accelerator fiasco as a case study in the dangers of a company downplaying or misunderstanding the role of regulatory agencies and political entities of the country it’s operating in. Senator Kyl said that, when doing business in a foreign country, “The key to success is understanding the political environment in which you operate, as well as the business environment.”

Professor Nelson praised the speech, saying, “His talk dovetailed very well with the theme of our whole course. I think that the key takeaway was that when doing business in a new country, be prepared! Learn about the country where you’ll be doing business. Meet the local elected representatives. Have a plan in the event of a crisis. All of this is relevant anywhere, not just the U.S. ”

Most students were impressed by Senator Kyl. Roy Shemesh, first-year MBA student from Israel, said he was thankful to be able to learn from the senator, “I was inspired by his wisdom, life experience, and vision.”

MBA student Arnold Wang, from China, appreciated Senator Kyl’s directness. “I’m not familiar with American politicians,” he said. “Compared with Chinese politicians,  [American politicians] will express their personal opinion.”

Arnold Wang asks Senator Kyl a question

MS student Shawn Quan, also from China, agrees that Senator Kyl is “approachable and willing to share.”

After the conclusion of the senator’s speech and a long question and answer session, a group of 11 students enjoyed lunch with Senator Kyl in the Tower Conference Room.  Conversation ranged from the political and economic environment in China and India, to gridlock in Washington D.C., to how a country can be rich in natural resources but still be underdeveloped due to lack of leadership and poor decision-making by political leaders.

Thunderbird students pose with Senator Kyl in the Tower Conference Room just before lunch.
Thunderbird students pose with Senator Kyl in the Tower Conference Room just before lunch.

Daniel Nelson, an online MBA student who attended the lunch said, “I was quite impressed with Senator Kyl’s wide range of current and relevant knowledge of global topics. What stood out to me was when he complimented our program and the need for strong and courageous leaders who can make sound decisions for the world.”

One of the most interesting exchanges of the afternoon was during the question and answer session when Jempsy Fils-Aime, MBA student from Haiti, asked Senator Kyl, “[The] United States is not among the top ten countries for ease of doing business, but [the] U.S. is one of the countries that receives the biggest foreign direct investment. What do you think about that?”

Jempsy Fils-Aime asks Senator Kyl his question

This question sparked the senator’s interest, and brought out some of his strongest opinions. He explained the gap as: “The rule of law is very strong in the United States and therefore the U.S. remains the most stable place to put your money.” However, he said, “It shouldn’t be as hard as it is to do business here. We used to brag about how we could get licenses granted for an oil-drilling project very quickly. Now, we’re one of the slowest in the world! Just think about what this country could be if we focused on making it a lot easier to do business here.”

Students of GPE, which of the three views does Senator Kyl adhere to?


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