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Thunderbird School celebrates grand opening, name of new building

Event unveiling the F. Francis and Dionne Najafi Thunderbird Global Headquarters is part of week of events marking school's 75th anniversary

fireworks and lasers on display at new Thunderbird building in downtown Phoenix
April 10, 2022

Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2022 year in review.

The Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University unveiled its new headquarters' name Friday night: the F. Francis and Dionne Najafi Thunderbird Global Headquarters.

With klieg lights, fireworks, food trucks and live music on streets closed to traffic, the event was as much a festival as a grand opening for the building in downtown Phoenix.

The building is named after Phoenix philanthropists Francis and Dionne Najafi, who recently bequeathed an historic $25 million donation to the school, with the goal of educating 100 million worldwide learners by 2030.

Alumni from across the globe on Friday enjoyed food and drink and watched flamenco performances before the program kicked off with Thunderbird’s time-honored tradition of the international parade of flags, 58 in all, each representing a current student’s home country. The grand opening topped off a week of festivities that included master classes on a range of topics from cryptocurrencies to space leadership; a golf tournament; and regional celebrations of food, music, dancing and more.

People walking in parade with flags from around the world

Nearly 60 flags from around the world — each representing a current student’s home country — were part of the parade of flags at Thunderbird's grand opening ceremony Friday in downtown Phoenix. Photo by Brandon Sullivan

“We have come a long way in the last four years,” Thunderbird Director General and Dean Sanjeev Khagram said Friday evening. “Today we are celebrating three amazing accomplishments.”

It was the school’s 75th anniversary, and it also marked four years since it joined ASU. Opening the state-of-the-art $67 million building at First and Polk streets downtown less than three years after breaking ground was the third accomplishment.

Khagram quoted Amelia Earhart: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act; the rest is just tenacity.”

“The future is incredibly bright,” he said. “Let’s look ahead to the next 75 years.”

Man speaking at lectern with people sitting nearby on stage during building naming event

Thunderbird Director and Dean General Sanjeev Khagram speaks during the naming ceremony of the new building Friday evening. Seated are (from left to right) Larry Penley, treasurer of the Arizona Board of Regents and former president of Thunderbird; Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego; ASU President Michael Crow; donors Dionne Najafi and F. Francis Najafi; and Robert Stone, former lieutenant governor of the Gila River Indian Community, who performed a Native American prayer and blessing to open the event. Photo by Brandon Sullivan

Moore Ruble Yudell and Jones Studio, the architects of the new global headquarters for Thunderbird, have labeled the structure the "most technologically advanced building of any leadership, management or business school in the world.” Students can learn a new language in its immersive virtual reality language lab, visualize and interpret data using artificial intelligence, and connect with the greater global community using the latest in immersive and virtual communications found throughout the building.

Spanning 110,000 square feet — spread over five floors — the building features state-of-the-art flexible classrooms, 1,600 square feet of displays, regional heritage lounges featuring art donated from alumni representing a variety of artifacts from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe, and much more.

Thunderbird will be a key partner in introducing Phoenix to the world, said Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. The city invested $13.5 million in the new headquarters.

“This is a transformational day for the city of Phoenix,” Gallego said. “The mythical thunderbird is rising.”

A woman speaks at a lectern with the Thunderbird School logo on it while a man stands behind her

Phoenix philanthropists Dionne (front) and Francis Najafi recently bequeathed an historic $25 million donation to the school, with the goal of educating 100 million worldwide learners by 2030. The new Thunderbird building is named in their honor. Photo by Brandon Sullivan

Thunderbird was founded in 1946 by an Army colonel who felt that the United States was "notoriously short of personnel trained for foreign trade."

ASU President Michael Crow cited those origins and how they relate to the world in 2022.

“Thunderbird emerged to be a place where leaders might come together from around the world to figure out how they might interact with each other and build our species forward without conflict, without fighting, without death and the acquisition of land or the movement into a country just because you think you can do it,” Crow said.

Video by ASU Media Relations Visual Communications

The school was born of a global conflict that ended with the use of nuclear weapons, he said.

“That can never happen again,” Crow said. “People that think that way cannot lead nations.”

Thunderbird stands for free trade, rule of law and democracy, he said.

Top photo: Fireworks go off during the Thunderbird School of Global Management's grand opening and naming event on Friday, April 8. Photo by Brandon Sullivan

Nicole Almond Anderson contributed to this report.

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