By Keith Blincoe, Staff Writer
ATTENTION: Satire article. Reader discretion is advised.
A distinctive part of the Thunderbird experience is the opportunity to take part in the Thunderbird Emerging Markets program, in which students spend about seven weeks on consulting-type projects for corporate or government clients. Past countries have included Angola, Nepal, and Peru. The TEM program is evolving, and this brings new opportunities and challenges. One of the most exciting developments is an upcoming chance to do a project in area now controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
Professor Michael Ginney says this is a unique way for T-birds to make their mark in a troubled region. “The exact projects we’d work on still have to be determined, but we are pretty sure the program itself is a go.” Asked who some of the clients might be, Ginney said the most likely would be the ISIS leadership body itself. “That would likely be a marketing-focused project. We’ve already seen how innovative these folks are in social media marketing, and I think our students could both learn a lot and contribute value to their organization. This is the kind of partnership that could really make Thunderbird’s name in the region.”
He continued: “But we’re looking at other potential big-name clients too. Raytheon Missile Systems is a possibility—we can help them expand their direct delivery program in the area. So is ExxonMobil. They’ve apparently been doing internal research into ISIS and its predecessors for about 40 years, and though they haven’t exactly revealed their findings to the public, we think they’d be open to collaboration.”
MBA student Darren Watkins originally conceived of the trip, but in the end opted against personally participating. Still, he’s excited about what it this could mean for Thunderbird’s impact in the region. “Finally we’ll have boots on the ground. There’s only so much you can accomplish from the 30,000-foot level.” Some students think this isn’t a new program at all. Brendon Biegel (MBA ’15) said, “I just kind of assumed we already had people there. That’s been the way the school admins have done it before—they send a team or two in without any fanfare, and don’t announce the TEM Lab publicly until they need a marketing push.”
According to Ginney, ventures into the territory now administered by ISIS have a storied history. “We’ve tried to set something like this up several times before. Let’s just say, it hasn’t always gone as planned. But now that ISIS is in control, we’re ready to try again.” Any program focused on ISIS is bound to run into controversy. What about student safety? What about intercultural conflicts? Ginney said, “Ensuring their safety is our number one priority. OK, maybe not literally number one, but it’s high on the list. But a little risk is part of the package with any TEM lab—as it should be! And we fully expect the students to run into cultural difficulties. That’s part of the learning experience. They’ll handle them professionally too.” As for human rights concerns in the territory administered by ISIS, Ginney said, “Thunderbird already partners with institutions in Saudi Arabia, so what’s the big deal?”
TEM lab coordinator Charles Grieves said, “Look, in the end, the TEM program is about emerging markets, and ISIS is nothing if not an emerging market. Yes, there are still things to be worked out before we actually send anyone. But we already have an informal slogan around the office: Areas frequented by soldiers seldom need borders. I see lots of students wearing ‘Borderless’ Thunderbird shirts, so to me it seems the student body is 100% on board with this. This is a great thing for our future.”
Ginney agreed. “In the end it’s about building a network. The people you meet on your TEM Lab experience can turn into lifelong friends and business partners. We’re not exactly sure what that will look like with ISIS, but watching things unfold is part of the fun.”