Thunderbird School of Global Management


51. Thunderbird School of Global Management

1 Global Place

Glendale, Arizona 85306

Admissions: 602-978-7100



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With Thunderbird’s MBA in Global Management, students get a truly global perspective and a comprehensive understanding of global markets. Every MBA-Global Management course offers a global focus. It’s not just marketing, but global marketing. Not just business strategy, but global strategy. Every course serves the dual function of preparing students for international business. And to graduate, students must also demonstrate a pre-determined proficiency level in a second language of their choice –– English (if it is your second language), Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, French, German, Japanese or Russian.

Thunderbird, founded in 1946, was a pioneer in global business education. For some 30 years, it was the only MBA program with an international focus. But its differentiation as the major player in global business has long faded as the big brand schools, from Harvard and Wharton to London Business School and INSEAD, have become legitimate places to study and learn the business and cultural implications of doing business across borders.

The result: 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. In fiscal 2012, the school reported a $4 million deficit in its budget.

Still, Thunderbird is a unique place, often benchmarked by other business schools for its approach to global business education. T-Birds, as the school’s alumni are known, are an extraordinarily international lot, some 40,000 alums spread across 147 countries. They include such highly prominent executives as BP PLC Chief Executive Robert Dudley and former Morgan Stanley International Chairman Walid Chammath. And they can be a prickly bunch. Many felt angered and betrayed when the school ditched its Master’s in International Management in 2002 in favor of the more popular MBA degree.

Larry Penley, who became president of Thunderbird in November of 2012, has pushed through a controversial partnership with a for-profit educational provider, Laureate Education Inc., that will provide the money to finance both a turnaround and an expansion of the school into new international markets.

But the deal, which involves a sale and leaseback of the school’s 160-acre campus in Glendale, Arizona, to Laureate, has angered many alumni and led to the resignation of at least two of Thunderbird’s board members. They contend the partnership will tarnish the school’s brand to be so heavily involved with a for-profit education company. “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.”

Penley isn’t buying it. He says the deal was absolutely necessary for the school’s survival and is already at work on a turnaround plan that includes the move toward a one-year MBA. “I think because of opportunity costs, students are no longer choosing two-year MBA programs like they did in the past,” he said. “And the price of tuition has gone up at all private schools. As a result of high opportunity costs, students are voting with their feet and are choosing one-year MBA programs, masters programs and online MBA programs. So schools must shift with that shift in demand. We might be nostalgic or love what the two-year MBA does, but every MBA program that’s successful doesn’t have to be a two-year program.”

In the fall of 2013, the school debuts a completely revamped MBA program that will reflect the most significant change at Thunderbird since 2001 when the school ditched its Master’s of International Management in favor of the MBA degree. The school will offer a compact one-year MBA program that will cost $20,000 less than its former 20-month-long program. The highlights of the new curriculum are as follows:

  • One-year MBA in Global Management — This rigorous one-year MBA covers all courses needed to succeed in global business, allowing students a faster, more affordable option for earning this world-class degree. Students who would like to pursue a concentration area or internship can opt for one of two extended tracks.
  • New module-based format — Thunderbird’s new MBA features integrated, aligned curriculum delivered via six, themed modules over three trimesters. The module-based courses mean students take fewer classes at one time, allowing them to dive deeper into the coursework and for faculty to assign fewer, more demanding deliverables.
  • Cross-enterprise courses — The new curriculum incorporates innovative, cross-enterprise courses that approach the same case studies from two different global management disciplines so that one case can be studied and analyzed from multiple perspectives. This is designed to improve course integration and students’ absorption of material. Today’s leaders need to know not only the disciplines of finance and marketing, but also how they work together in a real-world context.
  • Focus on employer needs — New courses have been added to the curriculum, placing greater emphasis on quantitative and analytical skills. Core disciplines are taught early in the program to ensure students are prepared for their job search. In addition, personal and professional development activities are built into every module.
  • Professional development — In addition to building the skills that employers are looking for, students will develop a comprehensive portfolio of work that will validate their professional capabilities and elevate their career opportunities. Every project completed can be linked to an individual profile and electronic portfolio to showcase their work to potential employers.
  • Extended global learning experiences — The “Thunderbird Global Experience” is a new multi-week, applied learning experience abroad. Faculty members travel with students to provide an integrated look at the context, industries, firms and functions within a specific region of the world. Students meet with multiple corporations and agencies during this course, and have the opportunity to develop a globally focused deliverable for one organization. In true Thunderbird fashion, students can take more than 12 weeks of study abroad classes in the one-year track and up to four more weeks of out-of-country study with an extended track.
  • Unique course framework – The entire curriculum is designed with a truly global framework of “Context –> Industry –> Firm –> Function.” That means courses leverage the contextual nuances of a given global region, highlight industries of prominence and their influence on the context, focus on global firms as players in these industries and emphasize the key skills gained with functional expertise.
  • Flexibility – The program offers students the flexibility to expand their program by selecting areas of concentration (i.e., Global Development; Global Entrepreneurship; Global Finance; Global Management; or Global Marketing). They also can opt to do internships and additional experiences abroad.
  • Pre-program preparation — Before students even arrive on campus, online boot camps allow them to gain a baseline understanding of management disciplines. Once they get to Thunderbird, students take a two-week orientation designed to launch them into their MBA studies on a strong foundation of business fundamentals and preliminary career development, in addition to the softer skills of team building, communications and leadership.

These changes should significantly enhance Thunderbird very global MBA offering. As one Class of 2012 graduate told BusinessWeek: “The international element is just incredible. I was convinced Thunderbird was over hyped for international business in the first few weeks of school but by the time I graduated I had completely bought into the Thunderbird mystique. I’m certain other business schools are diverse but I can absolutely attest to Thunderbird being a place where people have a genuine interest in culture and travel.”

Latest Up-to-Date MBA Rankings:

Poets&Quants (2012): 51

BusinessWeek (2012): 45

Forbes (2011): 54

U.S. News & World Report (2012): 75

Financial Times (2013): NR

The Economist (2012): NR

Tuition & Fees: $89, 245

Average GMAT: 601

GMAT Range (mid-80%): 570-680

Average GPA: 3.30

Acceptance Rate: 78%

Full-Time Enrollment: 380

International: 60%

Female: 32%

Mean Age: 28

Average 2012 Base Salary: $83,034

Average 2012 Signing Bonus: $11,180

Percentage of Class of 2012 MBAs with Job Offers at Graduation: 29%

Percentage of Class of 2012 MBAs with Job Offers Three Months Later: 52%

Estimate of Total Pay over a 20-Year Career*: $2,345,535 (only 25 other U.S. business schools had higher career pay numbers)

* Payscale 2010 estimate for Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

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