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When Jean-Baptise Alphonée Karr wrote in 1849 that “the more things change, the more they stay the same” he could have been talking about Thunderbird. It’s an epigram whose meaning is often debated, but to me, it rings true. Despite the tumultuous past few years, and the resulting new programs, the Thunderbird Mystique is flourishing, and just as magical as it was when I graduated 25 years ago. Anyone who was on campus in April for the 70th Anniversary celebration felt it. The current students are amazing and are as T-bird as anyone I’ve ever met.

The Thunderbird Mystique draws people to the School, year after year, decade after decade. And it doesn’t just draw students, but faculty, staff, and employers as well. It’s also what drew the members of the Thunderbird Executive Leadership Council (TELC) when the call went out to alumni and other Thunderbird friends to apply for membership. The TELC, formed at the end of 2015 by Thunderbird CEO and Director General Allen Morrison, is an advisory group designed to help the School achieve its strategic vision. But what exactly is this group? Who is in it, what exactly do we do, how is it governed, and how does it function? The answer lies in its name.

Executive: While not all members are corporate executives in the traditional sense, the council is composed of approximately 55 individuals, drawn mostly from the Thunderbird alumni network. Ten percent are non-alumni— highly successful people who simply love what Thunderbird stands for and are in a position to help the School. The group is diverse, with people coming from a variety of industries, organizations, company sizes and geographic regions. Some members have a long history with Thunderbird, while others have only recently engaged with the School.

Leadership: While responsibility for the success of Thunderbird lies with the leadership team and its faculty, TELC supports the School in an advisory capacity as well as in very tangible ways. This includes substantial financial contributions, sharing our professional expertise, making introductions and opening doors for faculty and administration, assisting students through mentoring and funding specific activities, hosting events, supporting chapter leaders in our cities, and helping to disseminate accurate information about developments at the School.

Council: The structure of the council changes as issues and opportunities dictate, but is currently organized into working groups that focus on, among other topics, alumni engagement, current student experience, and recruitment, each led by a chair. Additionally, there are regional chairs. These leaders comprise the steering committee, which supports the TELC Chair. Members are expected to fill a three-year term, with the opportunity to renew for a second term. The TELC meet twice yearly, usually on campus but occasionally in other locations when appropriate, for example in conjunction with the 2016 European Reunion in Mallorca. T-bird alumna and Executive Director to the Office of the CEO, Chelsea Olson ’13, functions as an ex-officio member and can answer specific questions about TELC governance. What has the TELC achieved so far? Although TELC is only a year old, the group is already having an impact. Here is a short list of some things we’ve accomplished:

  • Mentor current students
  • Create and manage a fund for current students to draw on to help them take advantage of various development or job-related opportunities
  • Create opportunities for students to attend keynote events, such as the recent Global Leadership presentation of F.W. de Klerk, Chairman of the Global Leadership Foundation, Nobel Peace Prize Recipient and Former President of South Africa
  • Help the School identify precisely how students, employers and thought leaders should think and feel about Thunderbird
  • Work with the Marketing Department to help create communication materials, including the new Alumni Stories video series
  • Create and implement chapter leader training to help bring more value to chapter members
  • Host events to introduce Thunderbird to our companies

Why is it important to have a distinct council to do these things? The TELC are a very committed group, but not different from other T-birds. Now that the School is under new leadership and fully committed to lifting Thunderbird to new heights, the real catalyst to their efforts is a collective effort from T-bird alumni.

Within this context, the TELC is an important voice for Thunderbird alumni. It is, especially, a useful sounding board and launching pad for ideas and engagement. In short, it is an intensely focused and organized multiplier force for what we each do as individuals to help Thunderbird whenever the opportunity arises. Simply put, the TELC: supports the school that introduced us to a unique way of thinking and to a network of amazing alumni who have probably changed our lives; speaks well of Thunderbird within our business and extended networks; embraces Thunderbird students both before and after they become alumni; and continues to offer guidance to Dr. Morrison and the leadership team as the institution grows.

One of the best things about Thunderbird over seven decades is that it has never stood still — and that’s no accident. Innovation is highly valued and part of our DNA. Thunderbird’s relationship with ASU will bring about new opportunities and, undoubtedly, some challenges, so the need for alumni voices and energy to guide the School and its leadership towards robust growth within our new context has never been more important.

Whether you are a TELC member, an active local chapter member, or an individual alum, each of us can be a Thunderbird ambassador; each of us can create positive awareness of the School; each of us can help bring Thunderbird’s unique vision and mission to potential students and to employers seeking global leaders in a global economy. As a T-bird, you know that a Thunderbird education empowers alumni with a global mindset, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a flexible skillset that allows us to thrive in unpredictable, unfamiliar and ambiguous situations. We are the Paratroopers of Global Business, and the TELC is here to serve and to preserve the Thunderbird Mystique. #TbirdOnlyHere

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