Thunderbird: A Case Study In Organizational Decline


The Thunderbird campus in Glendale, Arizona

To Larry Penley, the president of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, the deal is pretty much a no-brainer. With the school’s 2012 fiscal budget $4 million in the red, he has agreed to sell the Arizona campus to a for-profit education company in exchange for sorely needed cash that would allow the business school to survive.

But to many alumni and several board members, the partnership with Laureate Education Inc. is nothing less than a sell out. At least two board members have resigned in protest and nearly 2,000 of the school’s alumni have signed a petition contending that the agreement with Laureate Education Inc. would “cheapen the value of the (Thunderbird) degree.”

Penley, who only took over the job as president last November, believes their concerns are understandable yet invalid. “That intimate nostalgia for what we experience causes us to be resistant to change,” added Penley. “And then the bias that Americans especially have because of what’s been discovered about for-profits causes resistance. However, the facts don’t line up with Laureate behaving like these other for-profits.”


Many enraged alums, however, aren’t buying it. “This is the end of Thunderbird as we have known it,” wrote Merle Hinrich, a director and alumnus, in his resignation letter. “The Laureate transaction is a tragedy for Thunderbird and a total windfall for Laureate.” Thomas Greer Jr., another board member who resigned, called the decision to sell Laureate a campus built with tuition funds and donations “unconscionable.” Greer vowed to no longer contribute either his time or his money to the school.

Some observers say the deal is evidence of waning interest in the MBA degree. In fact, many of the institution’s troubles have been long lasting and self-inflicted, making it a quintessential case study in organizational decline. The new partnership reflects years of deterioration due to increased competition from rivals, lackluster fundraising, insufficient resources devoted to getting jobs for students, and overly generous compensation for some of its faculty.

The school’s endowment, which in recent years has been below $20 million, is meager compared to many of its business school competitors. It didn’t help that a $60 million naming gift, at the time in 2004 the largest pledge ever made to a business school, never fully materialized.


Yet, even though the school lacks a significant endowment, several of its professors have been paid extraordinarily well. Kannan Ramaswamy, a global strategy professor who teaches in Thunderbird’s executive education programs, had a total compensation package with benefits of $700,096 in fiscal 2011. That is munificent pay for an academic who is not known as a superstar outside his school in Glendale, Arizona. It even exceeded the total pay of then Thunderbird President Angel Cabrera whose compensation totaled $584,749, a sum that included a housing and auto allowance and a country club membership. The Thunderbird academic, for that matter, makes even more than Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria whose compensation package came to $662,054 in 2011.

While Ramaswamy is the highest paid employee at Thunderbird, according to the school’s government filings, he is hardly alone in being so highly compensated. Andrew Inkpen, another global strategy professor, was paid $565,457 with benefits in the same year. Graham Rankine, an associate professor of accounting, was paid $492,908. The compensation for three other faculty members—Robert Hisrich, a professor of global entrepreneurship; William Youngdahl, associate professor of operations management, and Mansour Javidan, dean of research—all easily topped $400,000 a year.

It’s not unusual for world class faculty to be paid so generously, but the most highly compensated business school professors tend to be more widely known and publicly visible figures at universities that can afford them—not at a troubled school that has been in a long-term fight for its very survival. Indeed, the compensation of the top ten most highly paid professors at Thunderbird–$4.3 million in all–exceeded the school’s $4 million deficit last year (see The $4.3 Million Bunch At Thunderbird).

The school’s full-time MBA enrollment has been steadily declining for years, falling to just 380 from more than 1,500 in 1990. Last fall, its entering class totaled only 140 students. The placement stats for last year’s graduating class, meantime, were among the worst reported by any business school in the U.S. Some 76.1% of Thunderbird’s Class of 2012 were without jobs at commencement.

  • Bill Mullane

    You hit the nail on the head my friend. The year and a half I spent at Tbird in the mid 80’s was the best. Living and learning among students with such high AQs (adventure quotient) led to memorable experiences and lifelong friendships around the world.

  • Michael Flannery

    One would hope that these over-paid, non-performing, global nobodies would have the good grace to pocket their ill-earned salaries and disappear. These are parasites who have drained Thunderbird of its financial and moral capital. Mssrs. Penley, Ramaswamy and co., kindly take your hats off the nail and head for the hills. You’ve done enough (possibly irredeeable) damage to our Alma Mater. For you to linger is embarassing to all of us.

    You, and the inept, vastly-overpaid former president, have compromised a unique educational institution with your shallow posturing. Sadly,none of you ever grasped what Thunderbird is all about – thus waffled on about global greatness, while engineering a fire-sale. Shame on you!

    A bitter member of the
    Class of ’66

  • m7sympathetictotbird

    I attend an m7 on a scholarship, was admitted to multiple top schools, have a Wall St job offer, and I can say that while I didn’t apply to Thunderbird, more than one close, well-respected adviser (people with income streams several multiples of mine, more experience, with strong educational and corporate brands on their resumes) recommended I consider T-Bird. I’m fond of the school, though I didn’t think it was right for me. Let me explain: I think that T-Bird, overall, is a different value proposition. If you are a top 15 kind of candidate i.e. 3-6 years of strong work experience, you have a track record that showcases intellectual ability and professional aggressiveness, etc, then T-Bird won’t serve your needs. However, there are plenty other able people out there who can be well-served by T-Bird. I have clever friends who went to T-Bird, and what they shared were smarts (explicitly, some very solid GMATs), ability to speak more than one language (they’d be in the minority in the m7), and usually coming from a completely non-business academic and professional background. They were trying to get their first bits of exposure to international business and in that sense, T-Bird was a good platform for them to do it. Not all, but plenty of these folks end up having great careers later on. And in that sense, I think it’s awful that 1. it’s getting shat on so much and 2. the school has been so awfully mismanaged.

  • guest who is tired of bashing

    it’s good to know that snobs like you are still around in the world. If you are a representative of schools like Wharton or Haas then I wouldn’t want to be a part of your school or alumni and would shun it like I’d shun a leper’s colony. Did you even go to one of the top MBA schools or are you just a bitter complainer who likes to bring everyone down? If you can’t say anything nice, maybe you should shut your mouth.

  • Old T-bird

    While I appreciate many of the intelligent postings on here, I continue to be amazed at the people who repeatedly post rather rude and even “hater” type comments. Why must you be so angry and hateful? Can’t you post a civilized comment without attacking another school or the students? How sad for you. Posting your opinions (even critical opinions) can be done in a way that is civilized and not so rude and disrespectful. Many of you who write these hateful comments say you are from top schools, but you do your school and yourselves a discredit by your attitude of hate and snobbery. The mark of great people and civilizations are tolerance, acceptance, understanding and appreciation for differences including choice of business schools.

  • Old T-bird

    Wow, I really feel sad for you that you have to bash others to make yourself feel better? I mean why else are you wasting time bashing others? You need to not be such a hater.

  • Old T-bird

    why are people such haters of other schools? Seriously, there are plenty of excellent leaders who come out of non top 20 b-schools. People shouldn’t be so snobby and high and mighty. History has shown that just because you come from a certain lineage, background, ethnicity, religion, or whatever (including a school) doesn’t make you a better leader or manager. What makes you a good leader or business person is talent, skill, humility, people skills and determination to name a few. A good business degree can help you get your foot in the door to good companies but you have to still prove yourself.

  • Richard Baca

    To one and all reading the P&Q Thunderbird thread, Thunderbird started the whole “international, multinational and global” genre of B schools. Thunderbird was, until recently, rated No. 1 in international business programs Worldwide. It is the most copied international B school model in history! With that kind of track record and success and from a student body of only 1,200 max at a time 40,000+ alumni Worldwide I’d say it’s most definitely successful, so why all the negative comments? I think it all stems from just plain jealousy and maybe even the unwillingness to take on a second language and area study. Yes, it takes more effort!

  • JohnAByrne

    In fact, the only reason Thunderbird made the top ten list by U.S. News is because some schools decline to provide this information to the magazine. If they did, Thunderbird would not rank in the top ten on total student debt burden. We published a similar but more inclusive list several months before this U.S. News list. You can see it here:

  • yesorroo!

    M7 only exist in the mind of CBS.

  • ProofofSuckage

    w w w. usnews dot com / education/best-graduate-schools/the-short-list-grad-school/articles/2013/07/23/10-MBA-programs-that-lead-to-the-most-student-debt

    Show’s TBird as a top ten in debt but not even top 20 in ranking…..

  • MBAguy

    How long ago did you go to b-school? Haas and Wharton are far from majority white. Over 40% of Wharton’s class is female and of the people that I have talked to, a significant portion are doing something other than banking. If you were truly interested in an MBA with a global focus, you should have looked at the Wharton Lauder program (provided you speak a second language).

    P.S. The T-Birds I have met do zero internationally and have mostly been in finance.

  • YouJustWereNotGoodEnough

    A successful T-Bird is like finding a morally stout pornstar. You are still an idiot to not go to Wharton or Haas but the reality is that you never good enough to get in….you go to bschool not for education but for pedigree and access to elite jobs. Even with wharton being a finance school, they have so many alumni and so well regarded that you could get any international job from there anyways. Same with Berkeley.

  • Successful-TBird-Alum

    Well, we obviously haven’t met yet then. 🙂 T-birds are a diverse set in background and education and experience as well as what they do afterwards. When I looked at Wharton and Haas, I met mostly white male students who aspired into finance and tech (respectively) and only few had traveled outside the USA. The curriculum I saw at Haas and Wharton at the time focused mostly on domestic business with a brief focus on international. For anyone who aspires to work in MNCs, this is not really enough unless you want to work at US HQ. I think Thunderbird is amazing for those who want a real global career whereas some of the other programs are definitely top notch and may apply greater rigor on business topics but focus more on domestic business (or at least did so when I was considering my MBA options a few years ago). My cohort peers are senior foreign service officers for US Dept of State, leaders in many tech and finance companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. Perhaps you haven’t been lucky enough to meet / work with the right set of T-birds yet.

  • MBAguy

    I know several T-Birds, and they are nothing like you describe. Unfortunately, they all went to Thunderbird because it was the only school they could get into. Thunderbird is only a tier above the University of Phoenix. When I the a Thunderbird MBA on someone’s resume, I immediately ask myself, why didn’t they go somewhere else? Did they not have the grades/GMAT? In all honest, seeing a T-Bird MBA on a resume is almost a negative. Going to Thunderbird is a cop-out. If you can’t get into a real MBA program and your job isn’t sponsoring you, just work hard to get to where you want to go. Does a piece of paper that people other than T-Birds will most likely look questionably on worth the tuition?

  • global or not

    oh I would be ticked, if I was in the 2011 or 2012 class, going to school for 2 years and paying $ 20,000 more than the 2013-2014 class.

  • LeftyTheTesticle

    My left testicle with a 370 GMAT not only got in, but received a full ride merit scholarship to Thunderbird. My nut wrote about being in the top 1% of nuts being overworked from all the fellatio females give it and overcoming that adversity to one day before a top rated semen strategist for McKinsey adult film practice.

  • rubicx

    Everyone whoever applied to Thunderbird got in.

  • rubicx

    Nothing gruelling about a one-year MBA program where classes are broken down to two classes per six weeks. Of course, they can take time off to goof off after graduation, especiallly when they had it so easy while they were studying. You were a fool not to go to Harvard, Stanford or Wharton. Then again, I suspect you work in public relations and excel in spin.

  • rubicx

    Thunderbird’s competitors are the University of Phoenix and other schools without standards. Thunderbird is not in the same league as the top-20 MBA programs. Just because Thunderbird changed the name of its degree from International Managment to MBA does not make it a competitor of serious, hiqh quality, bona fide MBA programs.


    This post reeks of a 550 GMAT liar….btw….most MBAs travel after Bschool before starting new jobs. I doubt you got into HSW or let alone Georgetown…maybe University of Phoenix at best.

    BTW — Silicon Valley tech loves HAAS and Stanford way more than TBird unless they are applying to clean toilets.

  • Rob Stilwell

    Ramaswarmy is spelled wrong – DOOH

  • Not Obsessed With Status

    Wow…nice to see that your success in the world is solely based on money. Hear that??? Nobody cares.

    BTW–I have no affiliation with Thunderbird and agree it’s an odd choice for an MBA.

  • Successful-TBird-Alum

    I am a T-bird grad and chose T-bird OVER Harvard, Stanford, Haas and Wharton because of the international business focus and track record. Looking back, this was the best decision I ever made. I have had a successful career in Silicon Valley ever since, traveled the world professionally and made an immense impact improving the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the globe. I’ve also made plenty of $ in the process. T-birds go to T-bird in part because they don’t aspire to go into in I-Banking on Wall St. in hopes of becoming the next Gordon Gecko, like so many Wharton and Harvard MBA grads do. (So boring!) Anyone who knows T-birds personally and professionally knows they (in general) are some of the most interesting, well rounded, well traveled, intelligent people you’ll ever find to work in your global organization. There are some who are less stellar in their accomplishments, but that is true of every school on the planet.

    The lower rate of employment post graduation is higher than other US MBA programs driven by several reasons including 1) VISA issues for non-US students wishing to stay in the USA 2) more limited number of international business focused opportunities at companies – it takes longer to find those amazing internationally focused or international location jobs 3) Many choose to take time off after graduation to travel before re-entering the workforce. Who needs to be in such a hurry to start working for the rest of our professional lives? Most T-birds are an adventurous bunch, and fitting in some travel before getting back to work is a great way to recharge after the grueling MBA program. I did so as did many of my peers. Thereafter we all had amazing jobs lined up that started 3 or 6 months after graduation. Why such a hurry? T-birds realize there is more to life than just starting a job on Wall St. the day after graduation, which is partly why T-birds are T-birds. Meet one, hire more than one and you’ll learn how amazing T-birds are.

  • SoSorryTBirds

    Lo siento Thunderbird grads. You wait time and money on a useless degree. That’s like dating someone who has no personality, fat, stupid, and ugly.

  • carpediem

    you are misinformed! Thunderbird IS the school for Global Business. You probably will never achieve that awareness.

  • Stats

    Top-Ranked Business Schools With The Worst Placement Stats of 2012

    Unemployed At 2012 Graduation
    Unemployed 3 Months Later

    Claremont (Drucker)


    Rensselaer Polytechnic

    University of Oregon

    Pepperdine University (Graziadio)

    UC-San Diego

    Syracuse University (Whitman)

    University of San Diego

    St. Louis University

    Fordham University

    American University (Kogod)

    State University of NY at Buffalo

    University of Colorado

    University of Texas at Dallas
    TBird ranks among the worst in placemen stats. Many TBuird females resort to adult entertainment in Vegas to pay off MBA loans.The men become bouncers at Phoenix night clubs where they can advantage of drunk rich ASU females in hopes of knocking one up and having her rich daddy pay.

  • Mexitwist

    I think the article raises several good points regarding the overall “business” of higher education. Undoubtedly, there seems to be many explicit and implicit factors behind the distress of Thunderbird and its financial woes, many similar to those of Grand Canyon University and Ashford University, both of whom too, at one point, were struggling institutions that were eventually undertaken and revitalized financially.

    Having said that, it is a slippery slope when mingling academia and shareholder interest. It brings forth many pros and sometimes many cons; however, can be managed and spearheaded correctly if, I believe, the educational institution does not lose sight of its overall theme – students, building solid business thinkers, innovative graduates, and providing a unique educational experience!

    The value one places on institutional ranking should be far less than the particular value the academic institution will play in their role in becoming a well versed business thinker and strategist.

    I would also argue that one’s salary median does not necessarily define the overall prestige of a degree granting institution. I would argue that “institutional prestige” and “rankings” are oblique and only fog our lenses when assessing todays educational landscape.

    Is the business of advanced learning a BUSINESS! Yes! Hence, my concern for Thunderbird is not necessarily the merge of for profit help, rather staying true in ‘institutional identity’ now that it potentially sold its ‘soul.’

  • Absurd

    Ridiculous statements haha.

  • RightBro

    Right…and you are up there with HSW in international business ranking but failing to get the elite jobs they get with ease, while you mental masturbate to the thought of a McKinsey partner fondling you.

  • Kory tbird sucks

    Comparing T-bird to an M7 is ludicrous. Unlikely EVER chosen over M7 program.

  • CalUndergradWhartonMBA

    This is most uniformed non-sense I’ve heard.

    First, UC Berkeley is not made up of over 50% community college transfers. In fact, that number is 29% and as the top UC, we get the best ones. The CC system in California places students into CSU and UC system and transfer are not guaranteed to transfer to top schools such as UC Berkeley.

    Second, UVA, Michigan, UNC are all public schools as well and have many community college student transfers as well. Are you saying that these are not prestigious Universities as well? While those schools are the top school in its respective state like Berkeley is, with more schools to accommodate those transfers, UC Berkeley does not have to take unqualified transfer because they have no where to go.

    Third, the school is liberal, much like the Bay Area but protests don’t happen as daily as you are making it out to be. Most of the school is Asian and with a high percentage of STEM undergrads who are apathetic to those issues.

    Fourth, you can say that Haas MBAs wanted to go to HBS/Stanford…well you can say the same with any other top graduates of Kellogg, Michigan, Duke, Wharton,Columbia, MIT, Booth, etc…The reality that most are upset with the Haas alumni network in NYC because it’s very West Coast based much like Stanford’s. You would probably get the same thing from Tuck, Darden, NYU, or any other East Coast school complaining about the West Coast alumni network besides Wharton or HBS who have a large alumni presence based on the fact that they have 800+ class size to offset the low West Coast job placement.

  • BusSchoolProf

    As a business school professor, I am *shocked* by the intellectual level of this discussion. Quite frankly, I don’t see poets nor quants. Nobody who needs to put down other people has earned the right to carry a “Master” title, whether G7, Top10, Ivy League.

  • proudtbird

    At thunderbird, we have over 60% internationals who are the top leaders of there countries. We are also not racist like Michigan Ross and we place better than Georgetown in banking and consulting.

  • WeToddDid

    Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh I wen 2 dis skool

  • rubicx

    My 20th ranked school? How did you score in reading comprehension?
    UC Berkely has over 40,000 students most of whom transferred from CA community colleges their junior year at much lower standards of admissions than the entering freshman class. No prestige in that, just pretense. If they reported the scores of their graduates, the real UC Berekley would be revealed. Besides, it’s no better than UCSD, UCSB or UCLA. Indeed, that latter are thriving with their current reputations whie UC Berkely is just relying on its reputation from the 1960s. At any rate, we were discussing B-schools, including that thing called Haas.

    I did more than go to a Haas info session in NYC. I also visited the campus. Most of the professors were more into research than teaching. Most of the students were disappointed they didn’t get into a better B-school. Most of the undergrads were protesting the Vietnan War and petitioning for an indictment of President Nixon. Will you please tell them he’s dead. Retards heal thyselves.

  • rubicx

    I have met scores and scores of T-bird alums. 40,000 alums since it’s inception? It’s even a bigger mill than I feared. It’s a pity, because it’s a school that had so much potential, but I predicted its demise when they moved away from the IM degree to the MBA degree, then to about 7 other plus MBA-like degrees. Pick your flavor, they’ll sell it to you. The International Management niche was its comparative advantage, why they set that aside to be yet another American MBA program was the beginning of the end. You can focus on international business in almost any MBA program in the country, that’s what the second year is often about – a focus. Thunderbird got unfocused.
    Anyone can get into Thunderbird, anyone can graduate from it, anyone whoever worked an entry level job in retail has business insight. No advanced degree needed.

  • RubicxIsRight

    Let’s not count the Exec MBA but only full time. How many got top consulting or banking jobs….probably none!

  • TBird=MangerofJanitors

    Can’t get individual results if you can’t the opportunity….that’s the TBird disadvantage. They scrap for crappy back office jobs.

  • NoPEHFVCforTBirdgrads

    You mean my Wharton undergrad and soon to be Stanford GSB MBA? Sure. I’ve also worked at top BB IBD and PE shops and made more money than probably 99% of TBird grads will in their entire life.

  • CBSFinance

    As an M7 recent grad, I find it funny how TBird grads think they are as good as Top 15 schools when clearly those same companies don’t recruit there. You don’t need to know about every school to know that top consulting firms, investment banks, and tech firms such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, etc don’t recruit there.

  • Rubicxenvieseveryone

    Unless you’ve spoken to all 40,000 alums, you have no point of reference from which to speak. The one or two alum you’ve met in your life probably have more experience and insights and business savvy than you’ll ever have.

  • JamesJohnsonSucks

    You have no idea what opportunities other people have, so don’t speak for others from the view of your own personal perspective. Just because someone can test well and get in to a particular school does not mean they will definitely perform well. Everything in life is about performance, school only helps you learn, it’s up to you what you do with it. It’s too bad I have to point that out to you. Are you still riding on the coat tails of a degree you got in 1960?

  • WaaWaa

    No one can make you bitter – you’ve gotten yourself bitter by the choices you’ve made. If what you’re doing isn’t working for you, do something else. Put on you big boy/girl panties and take responsibility for your own life.

  • TruthHurtsKnowsNothing

    Unless you’ve become an expert in all schools, you’re just pulling stuff out of your ass. You couldn’t get in to Thunderbird so you’re bitter. You have penis and degree envy.

  • Justlookatthedata

    TBird may bring perceived value to its students but if you look at salary data and where companies are recruiting, TBird grads aren’t even close to being valued as top 15 grads and certainly not M7.

  • TruthHurts

    Smallminded yes, but it’s true. TBird isn’t elite. It’s a plain and simple fact.

  • WhatMattersIsIndividualResults

    Wow, graduate degree envy anyone? What a pathetic loser you are.

  • BetterThingsToDo

    This website has a personal vendetta against Thunderbird because someone who runs it applied and didn’t get in. Everything they post is total bullshit.

  • YouSuck

    You still haven’t shown anything to lead anyone to believe that you know anything about what you say. Go back to pulling shots at Starbucks or flipping burgers at McDonalds. Move along small minded peon.

  • YouSmallPenis

    Don’t waste space with your senseless dribble. Your lack of even a common understanding of discourse shows you know absolutely nothing about higher education or the value Thunderbird brings to the table. Stop wasting everyone’s time you asswipe.

  • YouHaveThunderbirdEnvy

    Where has your degree gotten you, @$$wipe? You’re just jealous because you went to University of Phoenix and are now flipping burgers.

  • YouKnowNothing

    Professor Ram is not the same as Professor Ramaswamy. I had Professor Ramaswamy for two classes while at Thunderbird, and no one (unless they were a fool) would walk out.

  • RubicxSmallDick

    My god you are retarded. You implied haas is mostly Californians and why people go there instead of Kellogg, Wharton, etc based on getting in and the instate discount. I am saying the discount is negligible. If you go to TBird over haas then you not only idiot but probably should be castrated so you can’t reproduce.

    UC Berkeley is one of the most prestigious universities in the workd period!!! One info session swayed you to think UNC and Emory are better schools? Look at the employment data, salary and who recruits at Haas vs. your 20th ranked school and you will see Cal is far better.

  • rubicx

    I’m not a TBird alum and your argument regarding a $5K discount is a non-sequitor. Good thing you went to B-School and not Law School. I did go to a Haas info session in NYC and was sickened by the Haas alumni who kept apologizing for having attended Haas instead of top-tier national program, but they were comforted to know that at least they were socially conscious persons unlike other human beings. It’s clear to me why Haas is known as the place to go for the reluctant MBA student. Wimps!

  • Haasistop10

    Haas provides a whooping 5k discount for instate califorbia natives, which is nothing. Are you saying haas is worse than unc/Indiana/ USC/ tepper? Look at the gmat and selectivity. You TBird alums are like fat chicks who think they are models.

  • TBirdis4losers

    making 21k selling illegal drugs or prostituting sex traffic doesn’t count.

    Why is Tuck in the middle of the woods in NewHampshire or Darden in Charlottesville making 100k+ in towns not cities like Phoenix?

    Wait…hold it… They have real companies wanting to recruit out in the middle of nowhere because they are talented. TBird is just crap.

    You are not elite or even second tier but a step above University of Phoenix.

  • rubicx

    If they are going to sell out, then sell out to Arizona State or form a partnership with a top school that does not have a B-School, like Princeton. It’s not the first time in academic history that has happened. Think Radcliff and Harvard. Think The New School and Parsons. Maybe the source of all its problems has been its genesis in that shithole called the Phoenix metro area.

  • rubicx

    I don’t think they are losers, but they are softies. Many went to Thunderbird because they spent a semester abroad in undergrad and wanted to continue with the international thing without comitting to the rigor of a bona fide MBA program.

  • rubicx

    That may be true, but Haas students are mostly Californians and went to Hass to justify not gettting into Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia, Kellogg, Haas is not top-10, it’s at best top-25.

  • rubicx

    Although I think his pay is excessive regardless of his academic credentials, his status in those programs would be more revealng than just the names of the schools. Did he graduate at the top of his class? Was he cum laude? Did he receive any honors? Was his dissertation published as groundbreaking? Etc.

  • JM

    This isn’t a deal that came to fruition based on “waning interest” in the MBA degree, yet one that could have been influenced by scores of online MBA programs offering great business education at a fraction of the price. Thunderbird offers it’s own benefits, of course, though, they may not be perceived as worthy of the tuition sticker price. Commoditized business degrees are becoming the norm meaning it may be harder for a quality program to set itself apart, and differentiate itself from the rest. I know a few alums that have recommended highly recommended the program; I opted for a quality AACSB certified program at a state school costing 1/3 of the price.

  • TBirdBlows

    What a liar?

    “Personally, I graduated with a private-sector job that I was able to
    secure at nearly 3x the average payrate of Harvard and Yale graduates,
    so I don’t buy the notion that the degree here is less competitive.”

    So you made a 405k salary or 3x HBS right?

  • TBird=NoPedigree

    McKinsey does, BCG does, Goldman Sachs does, Google does, Bain does, top HF/PE/VC does…..The people who say that it doesn’t matter, go to crappy schools like TBird.

  • James Johnson

    The issue is that a TBird, you don’t have the same opportunities as true top tier schools.

  • TBirdBlows

    Is this guy joking? I doubt you were even competitive for Fuqua or Wharton. Please, you probably are some 550 GMAT loser.

    There is a reason why MBB only recruit at top tier schools for international offices and not TBird. It’s because not only is the faculty terrible, the student quality is even worse.

  • Zion

    so T-birds are losers, is that what you are saying?

  • Jonathan

    I have to add that Professor Ram presented to my company in June. It was so bad, about 100 of the 800 attendees walked out. It was a rambling mess of go-to-market cliches and silly banter with the audience. He was scheduled for an hour. He spoke for 90 minutes. It was painful.

  • TB2011Grad

    A much larger percentage of T-Birds go into the NGO sector than at most business schools, with significantly less pay than the private sector. As for the lower employment rate, please remember that over half of Thunderbird graduates are foreign nationals, who are not allowed to legally work in the United States. These must either be sponsored by a company (on top of their compensation) or else put off the job search until after returning to their home countries. Personally, I graduated with a private-sector job that I was able to secure at nearly 3x the average payrate of Harvard and Yale graduates, so I don’t buy the notion that the degree here is less competitive.

    The 18 consecutive years of #1 status in international business is telling, as is the surging demand and high sticker price for Thunderbird Executive Education. Yes, many of our faculty are overpaid, and yes, we do face challenges that other schools do not, due to the smaller endowment, smaller enrollment, and mid-sized Phoenix market. Dollar for dollar, however, I will take a Thunderbird education over any competing IB degree. I closely compared Moore (SC), Wharton (Penn), and Fuqua (Duke) before deciding on Thunderbird, and to this day, even with the MILD brand dilution (let’s not get carried away here) that will take place as a result of the transaction, I am still overwhelmingly sure to have made the right decision.

    Thunderbird isn’t the right fit for everyone, I’ll give you that. But that’s a big part of what makes it special, unique, and differentiated in the marketplace. Once all of the fuss blows over, I believe that this will be seen as a necessary move, but one that positions the school for growth and enhanced brand exposure.

  • Classof2005

    Who cares where you get your MBA. And, I don’t care how much Ramaswamy was paid. He and the others listed were incredible. It really is all about how you apply the learnings in your life to solve problems and capitalize on opportunities. We all read the same case studies. I only applied to Tbird because I preferred the culture, academic focus and 24/7 sun. Tbird had great foresight when the school was established and perhaps took that focus for granted as the marketplace changed. In my mind it’s a classic case of first to market, first to decline. The school does not have an undergrad program nor a significant endowment base, which is an obstacle in MBA stature. Anyway, Tbird will rise again and don’t worry about a line on your résumé. We all paid tens of thousands for a handful of characters on a Word doc. As long as we utilize what we learned to build and lead something other than the next Enron, WorldComm, Tyco or Washington Mutual we’ve done good.

  • Leroy Blea

    Thought provoking article but I am not sure I would have
    targeted a single school, teacher, program, or field. I know these issues are
    not unique to Thunderbird or business education. Graduates of their program should
    not be any less proud of achieving a master’s level degree. Ultimately, it is what
    they do with their education that will determine its value.

  • mrt

    If you are indeed a Global Strategy Professor, how much time have you spent negotiating contracts with C-level and VPs of Fortune 1000s. I have, and I will tell you that sometimes individuals are the reason for bringing in the money. If a professor teaches for 5-10 years and does a great job, you don’t think large corporations would dictate keeping them?

    I’m not saying some of the professor salaries might be out of line. But, to argue your point without having the data to back it up doesn’t strike me as very “strategic”.

  • mrt

    I was hoping someone would mention the revenue. I agree that the salaries on the surface seem high, but many Thunderbird professors are worked harder for more hours than most universities.

    The argument against higher salaries is only relevant if they are not generating sufficient value. How much revenue would be lost if a particular professor didn’t teach there? If Exxon or whomever pays the school $3.5 Million and they want a particular professor, how is that a bad investment?

  • mrt

    There are a # of reasons why avg. salary is lower for Tbirds. A higher % of students go international where the avg. salary is lower. No matter what school you went to, your salary would be lower. Many alums stay in AZ where 80k is better than making 100k in NYC or SF.

    And by the way, I received $21k more in my 1st year post-Thunderbird than the avg. person from the supposed “Top” Schools did.

    If Thunderbird is such a waste, why are YOU wasting your time on commenting on it?

  • Thisschoolblows

    This reminds me of San Diego State kids saying the went there because of the international business ranking and why they went there instead of Berkeley Haas. Yes SDSU is slightly cheaper but lets face it, those losers didnt get into Berkeley and need to justify going to a crappy school. Haas kids can interview for MBB and bankinv while SDSU grads can clean toilets.

    Thunderbird should not be even mentioned with top schools. One or two successful CEOs doesn’t make it elite if you can’t get a job and are in severe debt.

  • LosersOnPoetsandQuants

    Bro — thunderbird has no undergrads

  • TBirdalumsareretarded

    You are an idiot. It’s a degree mill because of the high cost, and lack of job opportunities. A 34% employment rate at graduation is pathetic and even worse, those that get jobs, they receive subpar salary.

    The number one ranking metric is really jobs not education. That’s why people get MBAs. If you want academics, get a Ph.D.

  • DC

    Yes, I am quite bitter. I am a Thunderbird alum.

  • bitplayerhater

    Total DB

  • buck

    And who are you, what institution are you at, how accomplished are you
    (other than being “a global strategy professor in another institution”)?
    Are you more than a bit player? You seem bitter. Also, you seem quite
    prophetic with your statement, “My bet is that Thunderbird either closes
    in the next decade or changes its business model drastically,”
    considering that Thunderbird is essentially facing that decision now. Douche.

  • DC

    Can someone explain to me why P&Q is writing about Thunderbird? This is a niche business school that just very luckily happened to be well-poised for globalization and had a narrow period of success in international business before the giants (H/S/W/Booth/ect) took over. Thunderbird is a second-tier school and not worth the tuition, period. The fact that these professors are being paid so much is ludicrous. My bet is that Thunderbird either closes in the next decade or changes its business model drastically.

  • Global strategy professor

    I am a global strategy professor in another institution. I can’t believe these salary numbers for guys who are by all means bit players – they are most definitely not leading any academic debates, but also aren’t anywhere near the forefront of thought leadership for practice. How anyone could think they are worth this kind of money is beyond me. Even if they are bringing in money, then they are only doing so on the back of the institution, as their own reputation is simply not a money spinner.

  • AnotherTbird

    Let me pose a couple hypothetical questions. If you we’re a prospective student considering Thunderbird today and aware of the controversy, and in particular how vocal alumni have been, why would you risk $60-80k on a degree that could stigmatize you as a “Laureate graduate” of Thunderbird? Would that degree make you a second-class T-bird among alumni and more importantly to future employers? Afterall, if alumni are issuing such a strong vote of no-confidence now, why would they feel any differently about the about future graduates of the school if this deal goes through. Frankly if one of these supposed T-bird undergraduates were to contact me one day seeking a job, I’m not sure I’d know what to make of that person much less a future MBA because I have no way of vouching for the quality of the education they received in a post-Laureate Thunderbird world. The fact that this story has gotten picked up by major media has the potential to do as much reputational damage as the deal itself. 

  • Andrew Polito

    Thunderbird is the world’s most prestigious school of international management. The school’s MBA program has been rated #1 in the world for international management by every major ratings publication for as long as the category has existed. The exec-ed program is rated #3 in the world by Financial Times. Notable alumni include the current CEO of BP.

    That does not exactly sound like a degree mill…

  • Zion

    WhoCaresAboutNonM7schoolshere, you couldn’t be more wrong about Thunderbird, and clearly you are uninformed about its history, the quality of the education, its reputation, and the professional contribution of the alumni.

  • WhoCaresAboutNonM7schoolshere?

    Why is P&Qs having a story about TBird? It’s not a sweet 16 school or even a strong regional school like UNC/USC/CM/Notre Dame/Indiana with a 90k+ average salary. It’s an expensive degree mill and the reality is that most people on this site could give a sh*t about it.

    Please, Tbird is non where near the caliber of schools that most applicants here aspire to get into.

  • WhoCaresAboutNonM7schoolshere?

    Who pays 700k to professor that did his Ph.D at Virgina Tech?

    Dr. Ramaswamy earned a Ph.D. in strategic management from Virginia Tech;
    an MBA from the University of Madras in India; and a BS in physics from
    the University of Madras.


    Just to let everyone know. Last year the incoming class was not only 140 students. It was way more than that. You have failed to take into consideration other courses that the School provides. Also, when you meet these Professors, you will realize the reason behind the high salary. They are excellent professors and an asset to the school. It is out of question to even get rid of them.

  • Tbird

    In reading this article, my first question is who subscribes most to Poets&Quants. Could it be competitors of Thunderbird?

    Keep in mind that a leader in a field is often the organization with the most arrows in its back. Thunderbird has been criticized in the past and it will be criticized in the future.

    Whether Thunderbird is an organization in decline could be argued now that it has a new source of capital. Some people do not like the source of the capital. While these people feel the source of capital could drag Thunderbird down, I suggest the jury is still out
    on this matter.

    Next lets look at Taylor Ellis’s criticism of Thunderbird’s highest paid faculty. Clearly,
    Taylor is unaware that often the highest paid people in an organization are the highest paid because they generate the most money for that organization. While Taylor Ellis focuses on the compensation of Thunderbird’s highest paid professors, he fails to write about the revenue that these professors have generated for Thunderbird. He then compares the compensation of these high paid Thunderbird professors’ compensation in 2011 with the compensation of the Dean of Harvard Business School. Here again Taylor fails to write about the revenue that the Dean of Harvard Business School generated in 2011.

    Taylor writes that Kannan Ramaswamy, a Thunderbird global strategy professor and Thunderbird’s highest paid faculty member is not known as a superstar outside his school in Glendale, Arizona. This does nothing more than confirm that the author did very little research when writing this article. This professor is a top performer in Thunderbird’s educative education program. Thundebird’s educative education program is known by many publishers around the world who rank these programs and by many global companies around the world that use it. Additionally, Thunderbird continues to rank as the leading business school in international business.

    Change is difficult for any organization. Change is even difficult for Poets and Quants.

    I could spend more time poking holes in Taylor Ellis’s arguments. However, I have more important things to do with my day.

  • Moralesjj

    It is a sad state of affairs. Thunderbird was (is?) a great, very unique place. It was an amazing experience that has provided me great opportunities and life long relationships (including a wife). As you state, many students went on to great things. I am an exec at a top tier software company. Friends of mine are in leadership roles at companies in many industries, started successful companies, run billion dollar hedge funds, became partners at McKinsey, etc. The problem really was not professor salaries (albeit the numbers do seem disturbing), but rather a loss of niche and a set of circumstances that put it at a huge disadvantage (remote location, no undergrad/ state funding, low alumni donations, etc). Now, with an affiliation with a low tier/ for profit institution will only damage it more.