Prof. Ram: Beloved Thunderbird Professor

By Makarand Gawade, Staff Writer

It is an honor for me to write about one of our most beloved professors at Thunderbird – Prof. Ram Sundaresan, who recently celebrated his last day at Thunderbird. Boasting a lustrous 25 year career at Thunderbird, we talked about his life, his experiences in and outside of Thunderbird, and his achievements. I am grateful to him for providing his valuable insights for this article!

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Professor Ram

Prof. Ram always wanted to be a teacher. He was inspired by some of the best teachers he had in high-school. It did not take him long to abandon the corporate world and its demands; he secured admission into the Marketing Ph.D program at the University of Illinois. Prof. Ram moved to US in August 1982 with his wife Sudha, just four weeks after their marriage. Their friendship had developed at IIM Calcutta, where the two completed their MBAs. His wife decided to a get a Ph.D of her own, and they were able to accomplish their goals within three years.

Both Prof. Ram and his wife graduated in 1985 and moved as faculty members to the University of Arizona in Tucson. Professor Ram has lived in Tucson, Arizona – known as the “Old Pueblo” – for the last 30 years. His wife Sudha Ram is Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of MIS, and Entrepreneurship & Innovation in the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. Their sons Ravi and Rajeev were born and raised in Tucson. Ravi works for McKinsey Consulting Corporation in Atlanta and Rajeev is a junior at the University of Chicago.

Prof. Ram subsequently moved to UCLA, then University of California at Irvine, and joined Thunderbird in August 1992. You would be surprised to know that he has been commuting from Tucson to Glendale for the last 25 years. In the first few years, he rented a room in the West dorm, and stayed for most of the week. Prof. Ram asserts that those were some of the best years of his life, when he got to live next to the students.

When Prof. Ram joined Thunderbird, they had old army barracks converted to offices – none of the new buildings were in place. There were 1200-1500 students graduating every year, and the degree program was Masters in International Management (MIM). Thunderbird had a really large contingent of students from Latin America, Europe and the US. Class sizes seldom exceeded 30, and the focus was on world-class teaching and instruction. Prof. Ram mentions this changed when Thunderbird transitioned into an MBA school.

Prof. Ram finds himself fortunate to have taught in multiple programs: the original MIM, the global MBA, the Executive MBA (in every single batch from E1 toE24), the Latin America MBA program (15 batches, each averaging 120-140 students), and the Executive MBA in Europe (9 batches). He feels it is a real blessing to have been able to work with about 10,000 international students and executives. No other University, in his opinion, has offered or can offer this “Thunder-experience” and this is what kept him going for the last two decades. In his time at Thunderbird, he has won 16 teaching awards that he will cherish and remember as very fulfilling accomplishments of his career.

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Prof. Ram teaching Global Product Development

In his early days, he taught the core course (International Marketing) and an elective (Marketing Research). The marketing faculty was the first to innovate and create the 1.5 credit hour electives – he got involved with two electives: Global Product Development & Management; and, Services Marketing – both of which, he feels, are still popular courses, and have created significant career placement opportunities.

The foundations of Prof. Ram’s Executive Education career were built at Thunderbird. He indicates he is grateful to Professor Ed Barrett, who was the head of executive education at that time. He was Prof. Ram’s mentor and coach. Prof Barrett gave Prof. Ram the freedom and the wisdom to learn from his mistakes.

Prof. Ram started the Global Telecom program for executives in the mid-1990s. It was one of the most successful programs, and it led to a custom training program for Ericsson from Sweden. Since then, he has developed several custom programs for B2B companies such as Briggs & Stratton, DHL and Juniper Networks, and B2C companies like JP Morgan Chase. Prof. Ram has also contributed to programs developed by other accomplished Thunderbird faculty – primarily in the area of Marketing and/or Strategy.

The new administration has expressed its intent to revive the “old Thunderbird secret sauce” – international business + cultural studies + language. Prof. Ram feels that if they can do this successfully, the Thunderbird flag will fly high again. Will Thunderbird morph into its old, beauteous form of the golden days? Will the redesigned tripartite program revive the brand? Will it lead to an influx of new students who can inject a much needed shot into the growth of the global alumni base? Only time will tell – says Prof. Ram.

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Prof. Ram teaching Global Product Development Class

I can’t write enough about this esteemed professor; he has been motivational to us in all aspects. I am sure we all agree that it was a pleasure and honor to attend Prof. Ram’s class and comprehend multiple dimensions of product development in the best way possible. We thank him for inspiring many students like us over the last two decades at Thunderbird; we will certainly miss him to the core!

And last but not the least, here is a piece of wisdom from Prof. Ram especially for you folks:

“Regardless of what happens over the next few years, the Thunder spirit and ethos will live forever. And, each one of you, is an essential part of it. Be bold, be adventurous, and travel the untrodden path. Take calculated risks. Believe in yourself. Above all, know that intuition, backed by numbers, is not a hunch anymore – it is the road to victory!”

 What T-birds say about Professor Ram:

Simon Lu ’08 (Product Marketing Manager at ON Semiconductors) – “Professor Ram inspired me to pursue a career in product marketing”

Sunil Kumar ’15 – “Attending professor Ram’s class was one of the best experiences at Thunderbird”

Sumith Surajan ’15 – “Learning the realm of product development at Professor Ram’s class was a great learning experience”

Chandra Koduri ’15 – “Best class at Thunderbird so far”