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On April 8, 1946, Thunderbird School of Global Management (originally known as the American Institute for Foreign Trade [AIFT]) was chartered on the Glendale, Ariz. World War II airbase, Thunderbird Field, where pilots from around the world came for training during wartime. General Barton Kyle Yount obtained the airfield with the express purpose of developing a school focused exclusively on international trade and global relations. The airfield—which was valued at $407,000—was acquired at a 100% discount (i.e., a gift), which raised eyebrows around the nation until congressmen on the House Surplus Property Committee deemed that not only did Thunderbird qualify for the nonprofit discount, but that its existence would actually contribute to the cause of world peace. Yount was named Thunderbird’s first president, and established a vision for the school that remains today—built on the phrase coined by original faculty member Dr. William Lytle Schurz, “Borders frequented by trade seldom need soldiers.” With that, Thunderbird’s mission to “educate global leaders who create sustainable prosperity worldwide” was born.
As AIFT, Thunderbird became the first-ever higher-education institution to focus exclusively on international management by concentrating curriculum on cross-cultural communication, regional business studies and hands-on, real-world training in global business nuances. Thunderbird continues to deliver global management education in this same fashion today, with world-renowned faculty who have extensive practitioner and consultant experience in all facets of international business.
By 1955, there were two degrees offered: A Bachelor of Foreign Trade and a Master of Foreign Trade. Over the years, the Bachelor’s program was discontinued and the Master’s program morphed into a Master of International Management (MIM). In 2001, the MIM was adapted into an MBA in Global Management to respond to the growing demand for graduates with a business administration focus. During those same years, Thunderbird expanded its degree program offerings to include an online MBA, an executive MBA and early-career master’s degrees like the Master of Arts in Global Affairs & Management. The school consistently ranked #1 for international business for many years, setting the standard for global management education worldwide.
In 2014, Thunderbird became an independent unit of the Arizona State University Knowledge Enterprise, combining Thunderbird’s multi-decade heritage of developing global business leaders with ASU’s expansive resources, and in 2018 relocated to ASU's vibrant Downtown Phoenix campus.
As part of the merger with ASU, Thunderbird transformed its MBA program into an innovative Master of Global Management (MGM)—once again responding to marketplace demands that had shifted away from broad-stroke MBAs to specialized master’s degrees. Thunderbird offers this unique degree as a full-time campus program, an Online MGM and an Executive MGM. The degree portfolio also includes the Master of Arts in Global Affairs & Management, the Online Master of Applied Leadership & Management and two resurrected bachelor’s degrees: the Bachelor of Global Management and the Bachelor of Science in International Trade, both of which are delivered on the ASU West campus.
Thunderbird Executive Education offers open programs for individuals seeking career development opportunities and custom programs for global organizations looking for individualized development solutions for their unique challenges. Ranked among the world’s best executive education programs, Thunderbird’s product offerings have expanded over the years to include a robust selection of online executive certificate programs, international consortia programs, executive coaching, and more. As part of the merger, all executive education programs delivered across the ASU enterprise will be consolidated under Thunderbird, broadening the portfolio and its global reach.
The school has often been called a “mini-United Nations” because of its diverse and inclusive global student body. Thunderbird is also known worldwide for its vast and engaged alumni network of more than 43,000 individuals in nearly 150 nations around the globe. Thunderbird has more than 170 alumni chapters that meet regularly in 70 countries.