What Is the Thunderbird School of Global Management?

The Thunderbird School of Global Management is a global management school that is part of the Arizona State University System. Formerly known as the American Institute for Foreign Trade, the school operated as a privately-owned institution prior to being acquired by Arizona State University (ASU) in 2014.

Today, the Thunderbird School of Global Management—or “Thunderbird” for short—is known for offering the oldest graduate program specializing in international commerce.

Key Takeaways

  • The Thunderbird School of Global Management is a management school specializing in international commerce.
  • It is part of the Arizona State University higher education system, and was acquired in 2014.
  • In addition to its core academic interest, the school is active in philanthropic projects throughout the world, focusing on empowering entrepreneurs in developing countries through business education initiatives.

Understanding the Thunderbird School of Global Management

Located in Glendale, Arizona, the Thunderbird School of Global Management was founded in 1946. It has long been considered one of the 10 best schools for International Management studies in the world. The school’s distinctive name is derived from the Thunderbird Field, a historic World War II air base that previously occupied the site of the school.

In 1955, the school began offering a Bachelor of Foreign Trade degree and a Master of Foreign Trade degree. Over the years, the Bachelor’s program was discontinued and the Master’s program became a Master of International Management degree. Today, the school offers a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in global management, a Master of Arts in Global Affairs and Management program, and an Executive MBA in Global Management.

One unique feature of the school's curriculum is its emphasis on practical skills related to conducting business in foreign countries. In keeping with this philosophy, all graduate students in the university must demonstrate proficiency in at least one foreign language. Similarly, the school requires students to complete a practicum in an organization outside of their country of residence. Through these and other initiatives, students are encouraged to develop skills in core areas such as negotiations, marketing, and financial decision-making—all taught with a global perspective.

Legacy of the Thunderbird School of Global Management

With an alumni network of nearly 50,000 members, many of Thunderbird’s former students have gone on to attain prominence in their careers. These include Bob Dudley, CEO of BP Group (BP); Ramon Laguarta, CEO of PepsiCo (PEP); and Robert Shanks, former CFO of Ford Motor Company (F).

Aside from their core academic focus, the school is also involved in philanthropic initiatives. One such project is Thunderbird for Good, a program which helps transmit business skills to entrepreneurs from emerging economies such as Indonesia and Afghanistan. Founded in 2004, this initiative began as an effort to provide education to women in Afghanistan, but was soon broadened to a wider set of beneficiaries.

To fulfill and expand its mission, the project functions in collaboration with various stakeholders, including the Freeport-McMoRan Foundation, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Small Business Administration (SBA), and the Department of State.