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Thunderbird breaks ground on new global HQ at ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus

The new headquarters will open in time to mark the 75th anniversary of the international management school

thunderbird groundbreaking
October 08, 2019

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. Read more top stories from 2019.

The Thunderbird School of Global Management broke ground on its new headquarters in downtown Phoenix on Monday with a renewed commitment to globalism.

The international management school will move into its new building on the Downtown Phoenix campus of Arizona State University in April 2021 — its 75th anniversary. The school started after World War II as a training program for international businesspeople, and its motto was coined by a faculty member: “Borders frequented by trade seldom need soldiers.”

Sanjeev Khagram, the dean and director general of Thunderbird, reiterated that sentiment during the groundbreaking ceremony.

“That remains the principle we abide by to this day,” said Khagram, an international scholar who lived in a refugee camp with his family before immigrating to the United States.

“Around the world, the forces of nationalism and parochialism are on the rise. We always have to be thoughtful, we have to do the research, we have to be creative, and we are committed to being a champion for globalism.”

The new headquarters, at First and Polk streets, is next to the Beus Center for Law and Society, home of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU. The five-story building will include large gathering spaces, classrooms, a video studio and, on the roof, the pub — an icon from the school’s early days.

This will be the third home for the school, which started in 1946 at a dusty site in Glendale that had been used to train pilots during the war. The students lived in old barracks. Thunderbird grew from a small trade school to a bustling center of graduate education that drew thousands of students from around the world. In the 1960s, students’ wives were offered classes to help them adapt to the countries where their husbands would be employed. They earned a “wives’ certificate.”

By the late 1990s, enrollment began to decline, leading to financial upheaval.

ASU President Michael Crow told the crowd at the groundbreaking ceremony that from the time he arrived in 2002, he wanted to partner with Thunderbird, then a struggling but still prestigious private institution.

“When I came from New York City I was thoroughly impressed by the Thunderbird history, the Thunderbird mystique, the Thunderbird graduates, the logic, the people I got to know,” he said.

“I said, 'We have to find a way to work with these people.' Thunderbird is a leadership academy. It’s a place that takes people interested in how to make the world a better place and brings them together with like-minded individuals,” he said.

In 2014, Thunderbird officially became part of ASU, and in 2018 moved from the sprawling Glendale campus to temporary quarters in downtown Phoenix.  

Crow said the merger and the new Thunderbird site is a “tripling down” on the pledge to ensure the continued development of the global economy and the movement of people out of poverty.

“The only way we can help to ensure that is to make sure the Thunderbird School of Global Management is not only what it’s been in the past, but bigger, better and stronger and more impactful than it’s ever been.”

The new building is also evidence of ASU’s continued partnership with the city of Phoenix, Crow said. The city pledged $13.5 million toward the school.

“You’re sitting in what is an emergent hub of intellectual and creative energy right here in central Phoenix, which is unparalleled,” he said.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said that Thunderbird is a good fit for downtown.

“Phoenix recognizes that global trade is the future,” she said. “We are a large city in a border state, and what happens in the global market truly affects us here in the Valley.”

Khagram said that Thunderbird’s passionate base of 45,000 alumni in 140 countries is its greatest asset.

“We have sent people to all corners of the world and they have come here from all corners of the world,” he said.

Hiroshi Hamada, CEO of the ARUHI Corp. in Tokyo, is a 1991 graduate of Thunderbird, and the chairman of the Thunderbird Leadership Council alumni group. He told the crowd that he still has good memories of the old campus in Glendale.

"However, the excitement I have about the new headquarters is big enough to blow away my sentimental memories,” he said.

Top photo: From left, Phoenix City Council member Michael Nowakowski, Rep. Greg Stanton D-Ariz., ASU President Michael Crow, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, Thunderbird Director General and Dean Sanjeev Khagram, Arizona Regent Fred DuVal and Thunderbird alumnus Hiroshi Hamada pose with shovels full of ceremonial dirt at the groundbreaking of the new downtown Phoenix home of the Thunderbird School of Global Management on Oct. 7, 2019.

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