How do eight professionals from around the globe come together for one week in Bogotá, Colombia, meet four growing Colombian businesses, run four sprint-consulting projects – everybody working their tails off and making big impacts – and still say at the end of the week: “Crew, this was amazing! I enjoyed every second of it and meeting such a talented (and hilarious) group of people. THANK YOU.”?

They must be T-birds. 

The inaugural Alumni Thunderbird Emerging Markets Laboratory (TEM Lab) brought all of these components together, along with Professor Tom Hunsaker, for a powerful consulting experience in Bogotá this past August.  We had a home field advantage to navigate the Bogotá business environment.  The Fundación Bolívar Davivienda in Bogotá is led by Thunderbird alum Fernando Cortes McAllister, ‘99, and the Fundación’s Emprende País program is a proven business accelerator which has worked with teams of Thunderbird TEM Lab consultants over the past few years. 

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Diverse businesses from the Emprende País program applied for consulting advice from Thunderbird while a unique group of Thunderbird alums applied to be consultants.  Clients represented various industries:  building facades, cheese, online learning in healthcare, and IT solutions for low-resource countries. All projects were strategic, but in different ways – organizational structure, sales, operations, product development, marketing, and finance were all represented. The Thunderbird consultants worked in groups of two with a specific company but a bright spot of the program was that alums got to visit with each business and consulting team, providing exposure to different projects and ideas. 

The Thunderbird group of eight came from the full time, online, and executive programs, and arrived to Bogotá from Africa, North America and South America.  While everyone had slightly different goals for participation, all were interested in Latin America and trying their hand at international consulting.  Everyone was already engaged in a successful career, but they were intrigued by the challenge of consulting for a growing Colombian business and the learning experience of doing so alongside a Thunderbird professor.

Not only did everyone have a great time, but the results in just one week were remarkable.  Menntun, the healthcare industry learning platform, told us, “This experience has had a huge impact… It has enabled us to figure out how to…extend our reach regionally. Every time they (the Tbird consultants) had a new idea, it was like an explosion of changes and this has opened the door to new ideas. It has been a marvelous experience and incredible to have the consultants close to us, getting to know our business and helping us with high-impact projects.”

The alumni worked hard and enjoyed building relationships with each other.  According to Alumni Consultant Santiago Fajardo, ’11, “As a TEM Lab team of eight, we not only had the support of our client team members but the entire Thunderbird team which came with a diverse background of expertise and experiences. This team support allowed us to rely on each other for feedback and specific expertise with our clients’ goals.”

Finally, according to Kate Robertson ‘11, TEM team member, another key ingredient of Thunderbird adventures was in full play, “We ate like kings and people loved that! Meal time was always exciting and there was a nice element of surprise as to what we were going to get.  We built in a few nights for alumni to go to dinner on their own but they chose to go together because they enjoyed the company, sharing stories and bouncing business ideas off one another.” 

All involved finished the week with memorable experiences and new friendships. Some alumni even stayed in Colombia to explore more.  The client companies came away with new ideas and actionable plans for growth.  Alumni planted international consulting on their resume and brought Continuing Education Credits (CEUs) back to their career and employers (indeed, some employers paid for the experience).

Ken Hill, ‘16, in summing up the week said, “This was a fantastic experience and just confirms to me how great Tbirds are and how proud I am to be one. Thanks to everyone. You’re all amazing people!”

Why are Tbirds so engaged with the world?  Upon reflection at the end of the week Professor Hunsaker may have hit the nail on the head: “Many spend their time trying to be ‘interesting’.  Others focus on being ‘interested’.  The former seeks attention and is prone to superficiality.  The latter seeks genuine insight and impact.  I couldn’t be more pleased with the week’s outcome…nor more proud to call you fellow Tbirds.  Because you were so ‘interested’ you left an incredible mark on your clients and colleagues.” 

This inaugural Alumni TEM Lab group set the benchmark for what we believe will become a new aspect of the Thunderbird experience.  This was too much fun to not do again.  We are already at work planning the next Alumni TEM Lab so watch out for it! 


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