By Lauren Herber, Editor-in-Chief
Those of us that have had the pleasure of attending a class or lecture taught by Professor Denis Leclerc are likely familiar with the topic of “Leading in a VUCA World.” VUCA isn’t a particularly new term, but its meaning and implications are just as relevant today as they were when the term was coined. VUCA is an acronym that stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. It represents the sudden change, the unpredictable surprises, the complex problems and opportunities, and the unclear information that challenge our world today. There are some that resist these truths, and then there are those that embrace them wholeheartedly. Thunderbirds are the latter.
As we all know, Thunderbird has faced many of these very challenges throughout its history and in recent years. These unpredictable twists and turns have led our school, its students, and its alumni down paths unexpected but exciting. At every step, we have embraced the uncertainty of the life we’ve chosen as global citizens and risen to every challenge. And we’ve done this more so than ever before with the recent merger with ASU. Yes, there is complexity, and uncertainty and ambiguity abound. But that hasn’t stopped T-birds before, and it isn’t stopping us now. We’re living in a VUCA world, and we’re thriving in it.
“Leading in a VUCA World” by Professor Leclerc was only one of many outstanding lectures given during the Thunderbird Independent Alumni Association (TIAA) summer conference in New York City. But I think it’s fair to say that the whole weekend dealt with concepts related to VUCA and how we, as Thunderbirds, can use our training and passion to be successful in increasingly uncertain times. And it was clear to me from the first moment that I walked into the University Club—sweating from New York’s insane humidity, gawking at the elegantly painted ceilings—that T-birds have done just that.
There were T-birds present from Cyprus, France, Hungary, China, Mexico, and many more. But what surprised me wasn’t the diversity of T-birds, it was the warmth with which they all greeted each other. It didn’t matter what year you graduated or whether you had met before. It didn’t matter whether you attended Thunderbird pre-ASU or post-ASU. It didn’t matter if you were an alum, a professor, a current student, or a ThunderSpouse. You were seen for what you were—a Thunderbird—and you were treated like family.
The second day of the conference began with an introduction from Merle Hinrich (’65, Chairman of the Board of TIAA). I’ll share with you some of his words that stuck with me: “TIAA’s focus is on supporting the interest of alumni. By doing so, we will support the school. The focus should be on working together. So stop complaining, and listening to complaining. Stop focusing on the past. Focus on helping the school—focus on the future. It’s yours.”
What followed was a series with lectures that all dealt with succeeding in a VUCA world in one way or another. Professor Leclerc’s VUCA lecture was followed by a presentation on the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act by Dan Mitchell from the Cato Institute. His talk was a perfect example of the complexity that entrepreneurs face when they cross borders. Next, Dan Baird ’08, Gabi Barragan ’08, Jason Best ’96, and Woodie Neiss ’96 gave a presentation on crowdfunding (funding a project/venture by raising capital from a large number of people). In addition to being intriguing, their presentation was proof of what Thunderbirds can accomplish when they work together. Check out Crowdfund Capital Advisors and Crack the Crowd to learn more about what these T-birds are doing.
One of the highlights of the day was the keynote address by the Honorable Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia. His address was engaging and personal, and his insights on U.S.-China relations were exceedingly interesting and relevant, especially as I consider them in the context of my Global Strategy and Negotiations classes here at Thunderbird. Following lunch was a presentation by Alan Brill and Jennifer Rothstein on cyber security. Their lecture was a reminder that while having endless amounts of data at our fingertips creates wonderful opportunities, it also poses a serious cyber security risk. We live in a VUCA world, so we won’t be able to anticipate all of the surprises that come our way, but we can help hedge our bets by protecting our information and data the best that we can.
The last two presentations of the day were given by Victoria Repka-Geller ’97, Bronwyn Bailey, and Susan Boedy Stella ’02. Victoria’s lecture was on “Transforming Your Career by Leaving Your Tale Behind.” Her heartfelt, vulnerable talk reminded T-birds that it’s okay to struggle, and that we shouldn’t shy away from reaching out to other T-birds for help when we need it. Bronwyn and Susan ended the day with a presentation on “Regulatory Policies Throughout the World that Are Having an Impact on All Participants in Private Investment.” Their talk was a good reminder of how interconnected our world is, and how we as T-birds are equipped to thrive in it.
After the lectures were wrapped up, we headed over to Gentilly Restaurant for dinner and drinks (it was our NYC version of heading to the Pub after a long day of classes). I shared a table with T-birds from ’12, ’08, and ’94. None of us had met each other before, but you know how it goes: after talking for ten minutes I felt like I’d known them for years. After lots of laughs, the best gin fizz of my life, and drawing my own name in a prize raffle (total coincidence, I promise), my TIAA conference experience came to an end. I was truly sad to say goodbye to everyone that I had just met. That’s the beautifully sad thing about Thunderbird relationships: close connections are formed in mere moments, but it’s also only mere moments before our adventurous pursuits take us to far off corners of the world. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to keep in touch until we can meet again.
I sometimes feel insecure about my lack of international experience to date. But attending the TIAA conference showed me that it’s not about what you’ve done—it’s about what you plan to do. What unites us as T-birds is the desire to truly make a difference in the world. Meeting the T-birds that attended the conference also showed me that there are so many different ways that you can go about making that difference. Like Merle Hinrich said at the beginning of the conference: “Focus on the future. It’s yours.”
You can learn more about the Thunderbird Independent Alumni Association here.