Get to Know the TIAA

By Alina Buzgar, Editor-in-Chief & Jessica Knutzon, Co-editor

The Thunderbird Independent Alumni Association (TIAA) was created in 2013 as an alumni association with a Board of Directors composed of alumni. We sat down with two board members, Merle Hinrich ’65 and Felipe Martinez ’03, as well as the TIAA Executive Director, Christopher Vlahos, to learn more about the association. TIAA has a scope of objectives that is composed of three parts: Thunderbird School; Thunderbird students; and Thunderbird alumni.

  • Thunderbird School: To help the school wherever TIAA can. For example, the TIAA participated in the TEDx event last trimester and has publicized the Affinity Scholarship Program amongst the alumni. “TIAA is pleased with today’s association with ASU, its resources and the potential niche market aligned with Thunderbird,” says Hinrich.
  • Thunderbird Students: To be engaged with students and perspective students from day one. “TIAA has a scholarship program for completion and has brought in nine students this year.” Hinrich added, “in the future we are looking to engage corporations which will take an interest in participating in scholarships and internships and those same companies can become good prospective employers.” The Thunderbird mystique is that the students did not just happen on campus – they came here with a purpose, with an interest in international trade and TIAA feels that the selection process is very important.
  • Thunderbird Alumni: To drive and engage with global economic issues that are not necessarily issues associated with the school. Hinrich explains, “Currently, TIAA work focuses on the FACTA program, an international tax regime that made it really difficult for American expats to work abroad; NAFTA and how it will be looked at by the new US administration – hopefully positively but whatever lobbying we can do for that because we think for US, Canada, and Mexico is very important; Import and export insurance – IMF associated service, extremely important to trade and the development of trade, every country has an import export program for insurance but in the US this is something that it’s losing its support and that would be extremely unfortunate for the type of companies that our Alumni are involved with. [Looking to the future] TIAA is considering ways to garner funding of start-up programs for Alumni,  from accelerators to crowdfunding.”

Hinrich describes himself as “the most unlikely T-bird student,” coming from a farm in rural Nebraska and who settled onto Thunderbird based his professor’s recommendation while he was a teaching assistant. Hinrich says he has never regretted his decision. “I came to Thunderbird in ‘64 and when I graduated I had two job offers. But there was another intriguing job posting with a publishing house in Japan and I expressed interest by telex. Soon after, I got a response only to find out that the owner, who was a Thunderbird graduate, served in the Korean war and was also originally from Nebraska. In those times a trip to Tokyo felt more like going to the other side of the moon. Once I went to Tokyo, I never really came back”. Today, he is based in Hong Kong and adds “my life has been a long series of Thunderbird acquaintances at every level.”

Martinez,  CEO and VP of Organizacion Emyco in Mexico and a third generation shoemaker, shared his story with us, “I can tell you that 12 years out, I am even more than happy to have attended Thunderbird because the tools that I used the most in my job are human resources.” Martinez adds, “If  you have taken all the right classes and with changes, some classes may be obsolete, but that cultural interface never becomes less challenging. Martinez explains further by using Indiana Jones as an analogy, “He goes into an undiscovered country and finds something. Thunderbirds are kind of like the Indiana Jones of business.” When you’re the CEO position you will deal 80% of the time with people and if you’re trying to put together a Mexican and an American with a proposition that is complex, whether it be marketing, resources or statistics.  It’s two languages, and not just the two languages, but the cultures trying to see the world in the same way. And that’s what Thunderbird taught me…how to be the interface between these two people.” He  believes Thunderbird is where people can get this specific type of education. Martinez stressed the importance of what TIAA wants to conserve. It is Thunderbirds’ unique ability to be the interface between multiple cultures.”

Vlahos concluded the meeting with an important message to students, “We want students to know that we, as an organization, care for them.” When asked how students can get involved, cards were shared and were told to reach out to them directly and are encouraged to do so. If you have questions and want to get more involved with TIAA, fill out this contact form or reach out to Will Counts.

This Friday, a few students, including the scholarship recipients, will be attending a cocktail hour with TIAA leadership. Check back next week to learn more about this event. Click here to learn more about the TIAA.