By Nash Wills, Staff Writer
A couple of weeks ago, a group of us from the Das Tor team released a conglomeration of articles spanning a half century of history, as told from the students’ perspective here at Thunderbird and released over the weekend of the 70th as “Das Tor Through the Years.” Request and pick up your copy today! The work was painstaking and tedious, but fueled by an undying curiosity that only a history buff could echo. While going through the 1989 papers, I came across an interview with alumnus Rod Taylor (1975) from September 5th. The article caught my eye because Rod was one of the first T-birds that I ever spoke with before making the decision to pack my bags and move out to the desert—he influenced me, if you will, and in what follows I want to share with you the story of how I met Rod and the response that he sent me when I emailed him the September 5th article.
While in the midst of an existential crisis following my return to the States from a past life in Córdoba, Argentina, I found myself on the top floor of an Atlanta high rise, sitting in the office of one Wanda Truxillo at the Mblox headquarters. Mblox is a tech company that was started by my good friend’s father. You know those text message alerts that you get from your bank when a money transfer has been completed? Yeah, that’s Mblox sending you the message, not Wells Fargo. Where was I? Oh right, Wanda’s office and existential crisis…Wanda is VP of sales for Mblox and my friend’s father had been kind enough to set me up with an informational interview with her. I don’t think that I was ever particularly interested in working for Mblox. I just wanted a job, which is something that’s hard to come by when your prior experience is constituted by a couple of odd summer jobs that included working at a golf course, running the crane at a steel fabrication plant, interning in the HR department at a bank, getting a bachelors in history, and teaching English in Argentina. I had the right connection though, management seemed to like me, and in retrospect, I might have even been able to land that job if I had been so inclined. But Wanda saw something in me that, as often is the case in life, I couldn’t see in myself at the time. She saw that I probably wouldn’t have been happy at Mblox and she told me about a graduate school for international management out in Phoenix called Thunderbird that she thought seemed right for me.
One thing that I love about Thunderbird is that this type of experience, when you first find out about the school, seems to be commonplace amongst all of us T-birds. I don’t think that you find Thunderbird, but rather Thunderbird finds you. So, moving forward on this line of reasoning, I asked “What’s a Thunderbird?” Wanda told me more about it and suggested that I should look into it more. She had a brother, Rod Taylor, who is a T-bird alum that had attended the school and gone on to have an amazing international career. She regaled me with a story of Rod graduating from Thunderbird and going on to lobby the government of the state of Mississippi—he’s a good old southern gentleman like myself—for a job representing the governor as a diplomatic liaison and the state’s economic development representative for Europe. I was fascinated by the story. I was hooked. Months went by, but I never forgot and, to make a long story short, here I am now at Thunderbird.
As I mentioned earlier, I did reach out to Wanda again after my acceptance to get Rod’s contact information. I called him and we chatted for a while about the school and his subsequent career. He reaffirmed my decision to go to the school and I have intermittently maintained contact with him ever since. So, back to the present: When I saw the 1989 interview article with Rod, I felt compelled to send it to him. The interview was conducted during an era of change within the school. Thunderbird was considering switching from the traditional MIM degree to the MBA, and South Carolina had just started its international business program a couple of years back so we were no longer the only fish in the pond. The subject matter of the interview concerned Rod’s opinion on the current state of affairs of the school, and how he viewed its role in the future. After sending Rod the article I received a response that was truly moving. It was the type of response that gave me goose bumps as I read it, and I have gone back through and reread it multiple times since. I feel compelled to share it with you, and so with out further ado, Rod’s response:
“Nash, I’m truly flattered that you’d take the time to share this with me. I remember the interview well. 1989 was just prior to the fall of the “Iron Curtain.” Within weeks after the Berlin Wall was torn down, and Ceausescu was shot by a firing squad in Romania and Yeltsin defied the tanks at Lenin Square and overthrew Gorbachev – I was there… and so were many other Thunderbirds and it was glorious. Thunderbird inexplicably bonded young people from every nation on earth in a fraternal affinity that transcended the cultural, racial, ethnic, religious, social and political barriers that divided the rest of the world. And in 1975, while I was a student, the campus was exactly as it was when the Chinese Air Force was trained there in and before World War II. The global media had yet to homogenize styles and the world had not yet learned to speak English. As a classmate said to me the first night we sat on a stool in the original pub, “This place looks like the bar-room scene in Star Wars.” Utilitarian, if not Spartan, the facilities were a throwback to a bygone era and we all believed it needed a grand face-lift. But we were wrong. Construction costs created the debt that cost us our independence. So it’s up to your generation to preserve the traditions that are worthy of retention and transcend those that impede progress. But I do hope you’ll all understand and appreciate the uniqueness of our institution and why we were all so proud of what was then called the “The Thunderbird Mystique.”
Feature Photo Courtesy of Thunderbird School of Global Management