The best things in life are free; one, in fact, is changing the world.
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 No. 1, where pilots from around the world came for training during wartime.
Lt. 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.
But before the school embarked on its now 70+ year journey in international business education, the world-changing Thunderbird Field No. 1 already had high aspirations—even simply in its architectural layout which was designed to look from the air like an etching of a mythical Anasazi Thunderbird, the airfield was a 640 acre, square property within which was a 5,280' square base all-way field, with a 2,582' x 1,850' oiled mat in the northwest corner, and 3 dirt runways (the longest of which were the 3,200' northeast/southwest & northwest/southeast strips).
Army Air Force signed a contract with Airways, no relation to Southwest Airlines, to provide instructors and facilities for a primary training school for its aviation cadets in March 1941, beginning with a class of 59 candidates. Eventually, 10 000 pilots from three nations, (the United States, China, and the United Kingdom) trained at the field before it was deactivated in June 1945.
It was less than a year later that Thunderbird—as a school—would take over the hallowed grounds of the military base known worldwide for embracing international pilots. By 1955, Thunderbird offered two unique degrees: 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. As the business and academic worlds continue to evolve, Thunderbird has returned to its roots—shifting its MBA back to a specialized Master of Global Management and relaunching its Bachelor’s programs in global management and foreign trade.
Now a unit of the Arizona State University Knowledge Enterprise, Thunderbird Field No. 1 continues to play a valuable role in the local and global community. Like the pilots during WWII, students from Thunderbird hail from around the world (over the last 5 years, more than 90 nations have been represented on campus). And, still, the welcoming nature of Thunderbird Field No. 1—which saw the value in cross-cultural interaction and the proud impact of internationalism—remains today.