ASU Thunderbird kicks off 75th anniversary celebrations with Founders' Day

historic photo of planes in a row

Planes lined up on the original Thunderbird Airfield, which General Barton Kyle Yount purchased for $1 with the commitment that it be used for educational purposes in the following 10 years.


Arizona State University's Thunderbird School of Global Management is celebrating 75 years of educating and influencing leaders, executives, entrepreneurs and professionals from the bottom to the top of the pyramid who work across borders and sectors to build inclusive and sustainable prosperity around the world.

On April 8, Thunderbird’s worldwide community is marking its inception with a digital, 24-hour Founders’ Day celebration that launches a series of online and in-person events culminating in the Grand Opening of Thunderbird Global Headquarters Nov. 4–7, 2021.

“Sentiments of nationalism and anti-globalism are rampant around the world, even as the interconnectedness of the world continues to accelerate,” said Thunderbird Dean and Director General Sanjeev Khagram. “As we celebrate our 75th anniversary, Thunderbird 4.0 at ASU is strategically positioned to face these challenges head-on, working to ensure that 2021 is the start of an unparalleled decade of action, renewal, and global transformation — to achieve the U.N. Global Sustainable Development Goals and much more, for prosperity, people and planet. To this end, we have reinvented the school as the most digital and global leadership, management and business academy working across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors worldwide focused on the fourth Industrial Revolution for the AnthropoceneThe new geologic era of human modification of the natural world..”

Founder’s Day will launch Thunderbird’s 75th anniversary festivities in typical T-bird fashion — with a 24-hour, around-the-world celebration. Through the latest technology, alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends will convene for a series of interactive presentations, discussions and virtual networking events designed to bring T-birds all over the globe together as never before. They will celebrate the school’s last 75 years and reimagine it for the next 75 — toward the “Thunderbird Academy of Intergalactic Leadership.”

Participants can connect with the school’s now 14 and soon to be 25-plus regional centers of excellence to discuss timely global topics like “Africa’s Path to Globalization” and “What’s Next for Brexit?” or hear from our newest faculty in the Masrin Center for Global Entrepreneurship and Family Business on “The Top 10 Technologies Your Grandparents Don’t Know About That Will Kill Your Family Business.”

New sessions and events will be held every hour throughout the day. Everyone is welcome to join any live session on Founders’ Day when Thunderbird honors its history and progress while celebrating its present and creating the vision for its future as part of the most innovative university in the U.S.

The quintessentially Thunderbird idea of bringing peace to the world through international commerce has evolved over the last seven and a half decades as globalization intensified and sped up. Thunderbird was established less than a year after the United Nations formed. The school’s founders recognized a need for adaptable mindsets in professionals who could go global, and their innovative solution culminated as Thunderbird. On April 8, 1946, Thunderbird School of Global Management, originally known as the American Institute for Foreign Trade, was chartered on the Glendale, Arizona, World War II air base Thunderbird Field, where pilots from around the world came for training during wartime.

Since that time, the world has also evolved dramatically through several distinct eras, such as decolonization and the emergence of new nation-states.

Dr. Sanjeev Khagram became Thunderbird's Dean and Director General in 2018

Thunderbird Dean and Director-General Sanjeev Khagram

When Thunderbird was founded, most of the peoples of the world were under colonial rule, including my family,” Khagram said. “The school grew and rose to prominence through the Cold War’s early years, through the formation of the New International Economic Order, to the end of the Cold War and Globalization 3.0 in the 1990s. Global management education continued to change rapidly after 9/11, facing major disruption again with the global financial crisis of 2008–09, and Thunderbird changed with it."

In 2015, Thunderbird became part of ASU, and in 2018 it relocated from Glendale to ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, where its new high-tech global headquarters is in the final phases of construction, on track to welcome its first students in August 2021.

Thunderbird’s 75th anniversary celebrations will honor that rich history while convening a global community of difference-makers to tackle the toughest challenges of tomorrow. In its 75th year, the school’s international community finds itself once again adapting at the vanguard of the higher education sector, not only to accelerating technological advancement but also to climate change and ecosystem destruction, COVID-19 and new demands for social justice.

Thunderbird has often been referred to as a “mini United Nations” because of its diverse and inclusive global faculty, student body, staff and alumni, and therein lies one of its greatest strengths. From Founders’ Day on April 8 to the grand opening of Thunderbird Global Headquarters in November, this longstanding tradition of honoring diversity and fostering cross-cultural connections will be on display, exemplifying the ASU Charter’s focus on inclusion.

Visit the Thunderbird Founders’ Day registration page to sign up or learn more.

Written by graduate student Christina Furst.

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