The $100M Facelift At Thunderbird School Of Global Management

Sanjeev Khagram, dean of the Thunderbird School of Global Management

The Thunderbird School of Global Management is at the top — of one small list, at least. Last month, the Wall Street Journal ranked its Master’s in Global Management No. 1 in the world. 

It’s a small payoff among what the school’s new dean, Dr. Sanjeev Khagram, hopes will be many as the school undergoes a period of unprecedented growth — and something of a renaissance. After the 2013 downsizing of its MBA and its 2014 acquisition by Arizona State University — itself ranked number one for innovation by U.S. News and World Report — Thunderbird is roaring back. The school has been in hyper-growth mode for the last year, raising over $100 million, launching new cross-disciplinary degree programs, and cementing partnerships with some of the world’s largest institutions. 

There is no longer an MBA program at Thunderbird — it has been replaced by a Master’s in Global Management. There is, however, confidence in the future now that Arizona State seems to have thrown its full support behind the school after a few challenging years where Thunderbird’s direction was unclear, and where it was seen as being in a state of perpetual decline.


Dr. Sanjeev Khagram, dean of the Thunderbird School of Global Management

In July 2018, Thunderbird, named for its location on a deactivated Army Air Training base just outside Phoenix, welcomed a new dean with a Stanford pedigree and vast global experience. Khagram, a global political economist, announced his intention to launch a new Thunderbird as an institution whose mission is “to create a class of highly skilled global leaders trained to operate in a world where technology is unleashing exponential change, fundamentally reordering every aspect of how the world works and lives.”

“We are now in an era called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where technology is driving change at an unseen scale. Business schools must respond by training leaders who can respond to these changes, in an environment of global challenges such as climate change and poverty,” Khagram says. 

For Thunderbird, much is in the works: a $75 million state-of-the-art global headquarters in a revitalized downtown Phoenix, which is now the fastest-growing city in the United States. Most ambitious are 20 new global hubs to add to those already in existence: including Moscow, Geneva, Dubai, Tokyo, Sao Paolo, Los Angeles, Seoul, Washington, D.C., Shanghai, and Nairobi. 

Khagram’s goals are ambitious; he says in some ways, his role is a spiritual calling. Below are excerpts from an interview with Poets&Quants in which he outlines his vision for Thunderbird.

P&Q: What exactly is your aim with all these changes?

Sanjeev Khagram: The goal is to prepare the next generation of global leaders to succeed in the 4th industrial revolution, which is being driven by technology. To put it into a historical context, Thunderbird was founded after WWII to establish a new order based on international trade and cooperation. Today, that order is being challenged around the world by the rise of nationalism and parochialism. Globalization has been a powerful engine of prosperity, but it must be more inclusive. At the same time, the world is facing unprecedented challenges to environmental sustainability. Humanity has fundamentally altered the planet and life support systems are under threat. 

It will take a new kind of professional to leverage these opportunities — harnessing the data revolution, automation and AI, the internet of things, blockchain — but not repeat the errors of the past. 

What does that mission mean, translated on the ground?

If you ask our students and alumni, they will tell you that being a “T-bird” has always been a mindset, and not just an education or a degree. We understand our role and responsibility in the world in different terms. One of our school’s early leaders professed: “Borders that are frequented by trade seldom need soldiers.” We have been at the forefront of globalism since our founding and will continue to tackle new challenges. 

We have completely reimagined our curriculum, now offering 14 concentrations in our Master’s in Global Management, providing our students with an opportunity to design a trans-disciplinary degree that provides them with tools in a variety of fields. We will provide tomorrow’s leaders with skills, knowledge and foresight to address global challenges, leverage emerging technologies and mitigate the unintended consequences of progress. Most importantly, we are training leaders with a global mindset, cultural competency, and emotional intelligence.

Students can pursue concentrations through coursework at ASU’s School of Engineering, School of Sustainability, College of Public Service and Community Solutions, College of Health Solutions, School for the Future of Innovation in Society, and many others.

Thunderbird will not just a school located in one city, but a connected global network that trains managers and shapes debates around the world. We are leveraging our network of over 45,000 alumni in more than 140 countries to create 20 global hubs — from London to Johannesburg to Jakarta to Mexico City. This global reach not only represents professional networking potential for our alumni, internships and job opportunities for our students, opportunities to scale online and hybrid programs, and the ability to advance locally relevant executive education offerings. 

When finished, the new headquarters will offer students and alumni state-of-the-art facilities and 21st-century technology using virtual reality and artificial intelligence, to share information in new ways and to convene thought leaders from all corners of the world.

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