Thunderbird School of Global Management was founded in 1946 as The American Institute for Foreign Trade. The school was founded by Lieutenant General Barton Kyle Yount in Glendale, Arizona on the former World War II military airfield, Thunderbird Field No. 1, which was purchased by Yount from the War Assets Administration for one dollar, subject to the condition that the property be used for educational purposes for a minimum of 10 years. Yount became the school's first president when the school was chartered on April 8, 1946. Classes officially began on October 1, 1946 with 98% of enrolled students attending on the G.I. Bill. The first degrees were awarded on June 14, 1947.
The institute focused on international management and was the first graduate school to train students in global business to work for the U.S. government or overseas for American businesses. Early in its history, Thunderbird implemented a language program focused on Spanish and Portuguese, using the same instructional methods the Army had used during World War II. The school also created an international studies program early on, focused initially on Latin America, but later expanding to include other parts of the world, such as Asia.
In the school's early years, Thunderbird awarded two degrees, a Bachelor of Foreign Trade and a Master of Foreign Trade, although after 1975 the school no longer offered the undergraduate degree. The American Institute for Foreign Trade later changed its name to theThunderbird Graduate School of International Management before again changing its name to the American Graduate School of International Management in the 1970s.
Beginning in the 1990s, the school went by the name Thunderbird, the American Graduate School of International Management. After reaching a peak enrollment of around 1,600 in the 1990s, Thunderbird saw declining enrollment numbers in the 2000s. The school also saw a decline in the number of foreign students enrolled as a result of stricter visa rules.
In 2001, the school began to offer a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in International Management, replacing the previously offered Master of International Management. Three years later, the school changed its name to Thunderbird, the Garvin School of International Management, following a $13 million donation (part of a pledge that was originally planned to be $60 million) from alumnus Samuel Garvin. The same year, the school hired Ángel Cabrera to serve as president. Cabrera oversaw the school's 2006 adoption of their Professional Oath of Honor. The oath was developed with input from students and faculty and was considered by the school to be the first of its kind for business schools. Students sign the pledge upon graduation promising to act ethically and honestly in the business world (similar to the Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors).
Garvin's name was removed from the school's name in 2007. The school began to use the name Thunderbird School of Global Management, to focus on the Thunderbird brand and highlight the school's focus on global business. At this time, Garvin's name was given to the newly created position, the Garvin Distinguished Professor of Global Management Research, and was still used for the Garvin Center of Cultures and Languages of International Management and the Garvin Professorship of Entrepreneurship. As part of the transition to the new name, the school adopted its current logo of a phoenix with a globe-shaped body.
In 2011, after efforts by a Thunderbird alumnus, Arizona began selling Thunderbird license plates. The following year, Larry Penley became the president of Thunderbird.
In March 2013, the school announced a planned partnership with Laureate Education, Inc. As part of the planned partnership, Thunderbird would remain a nonprofit organization, exempt from income tax as 501(c)(3), but would establish a joint educational service company with Laureate, a for-profit company. This joint company would launch an undergraduate program and expand online programs. Undergraduate students would attend Thunderbird for the final year of their undergraduate degree program. The planned partnership would allow Thunderbird to host events at Laureate campuses worldwide and establish Thunderbird campuses abroad. The school announced Paris, Madrid, Brazil and Chile as potential sites. According to the school, Laureate would have no influence over academic decisions for the school. Thunderbird would also retain degree-awarding powers. However, Laureate would be given three seats on the school's board.
Under the agreement, Thunderbird would sell their campus to Laureate in a leaseback agreement. The school would continue to operate from their Glendale campus, but would use the money from the sale to pay off its debts. Thunderbird alumni would have the option to purchase the campus from Laureate within two years or the school may repurchase their campus at the end of the twenty-year lease agreement. As well, Laureate and Thunderbird had planned to invest $20 million and $10 million respectively to provide for campus improvements.
The proposed agreement was protested by some Thunderbird alumni and board members who have expressed concern about the impact that the partnership will have on the school's reputation. In response, alumni in opposition of the proposed agreement signed an online petition in protest. Additionally, some alumni formed the Thunderbird Independent Alumni Association, which expressed concerns over the agreement. Following the announcement of the planned agreement, five Thunderbird board members and seven members of the Thunderbird Alumni Network board resigned. The proposed agreement was also supported by alumni and faculty whose statements have been presented on the school's website.
The planned structure change was approved by the school's board in June 2013, although The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the school's regional accreditor, did not approve the proposal. Thunderbird had stated that they anticipated that the agreement would be approved, as other Laureate schools are accredited through the Commission.
As of January 2014, the school's president was Larry Penley and the school employed 48 faculty members.
In 2015, the school finalized an agreement with Arizona State University to be integrated as a college within the university.
Thunderbird is described as a "unit" of the "Arizona State University Knowledge Enterprise." A unit, in contrast to a school or college (but like an "institute"), is said to be focused broadly, developing and disseminating knowledge throughout ASU. Accordingly, Thunderbird retains its own logo and other distinctive marketing dress.
Thunderbird's flagship degrees have included the Bachelor of Foreign Trade (until 1975), the Master of International Management (until 2001), and an MBA in Global Management (through 2016). In the wake of its acquisition by ASU, Thunderbird will phase out the MBA (in order to avoid duplicating the program of ASU's W.P. Carey School of Business) and offer a three-semester Master of Global Management (modeled after the earlier MIM degree), and a two-year Master of Arts in Global Affairs and Management. The school also plans to offer graduate certificates in global management, global affairs, and global development.
The school's executive education programs date from the 1980s, and according to ASU president Michael Crow, will continue to be emphasized in the future.
Forbes ranked Thunderbird as the 54th best business school in the U.S. in 2011, and a 2012 report released by Bloomberg Businessweek ranked Thunderbird as the top international business program. Thunderbird was also ranked as the 5th most diverse school out of 82 schools surveyed, based on student responses about students' country of origin, gender and ethnicity. In 2013, The Financial Times ranked Thunderbird's executive education program ninth overall based on corporate client feedback to The Financial Times. Also in 2013, The Economist released ratings for online programs and gave Thunderbird a rating of "good", which was one step down from the publication's top rating of "excellent". In its 2014 rankings, published in 2013, U.S. News & World Report ranked Thunderbird as the best international business school in their annual rankings, marking the eighteenth consecutive year the school was named top international business program. In U.S. News & World Report's 2015 rankings, published in 2014, Thunderbird was ranked 85th for best business school, and second in the overall rankings for international business school.
The Thunderbird campus is located on the former World War II airfield Thunderbird Field No. 1. Located in Glendale, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, the airfield was built in 1941 and was used to train pilots. The school has utilized the existing buildings on the airfield and many of the school's classrooms are located in the airfield's former barracks.
The airfield's air traffic control tower is still present on campus. Beginning in 2007, the tower underwent a restoration project at the urging of three Thunderbird students who raised $2.5 million for the project. The school was awarded the Ruth Bryne Historic Preservation Award by the city of Glendale for the renovation. The tower is currently occupied by the campus store, student lounges and a pub.
In 2011, one of the then-70-year-old airplane hangars on campus was removed. The building, named the Thunderbird Activity Center by the school, had been used for special events and exams, but was determined to no longer meet safety standards following an inspection of the campus.
Other buildings on campus include the International Business Information Centre (IBIC), which is Thunderbird's library, and a dining hall for students. The school's campus also features a Welcome Wall, which was built in 1992, and displays greetings in different languages.
Students, alumni and faculty are often referred to as Thunderbirds or T-birds. As of Fall 2013, the school has 1,015 students enrolled, 530 of whom are enrolled in full-time programs. Of full-time students, 27 percent are women and 68.5 percent have come from locations outside the United States. Students run a school newspaper named Das Tor. Other student activities include Thunderbird's several sports clubs. One of the longest lasting is the Thunderbird Rugby Football Club, founded in 1976. The club regularly hosts a tournament, the Thunderbird Rugby Invitational, with other business schools from around the U.S.
Every year, one student of the graduating class is awarded the Barton Kyle Yount Award in honor of the school's founder and first president. The award is determined on the basis of scholarship, accomplishment and character.
Thunderbird has a number of notable graduates, including Walid Chammah, former chairman of Morgan Stanley; Bob Dudley, the current CEO of BP; and Luis Alberto Moreno, former Ambassador of Colombia to the United States and the current president of the Inter-American Development Bank. Lee Abbamonte, the youngest American to visit all 193 United Nations member states, graduated in 2010.
Thunderbird has 40,000 alumni who work for more than 12,000 different organizations across 140 countries. The alumni association, the Thunderbird Global Network, was founded in 1984. The various chapters of the network hold monthly events for alumni.