New alumni council listens, serves, unites

A stylized globe rises majestically from a central courtyard at One Global Place, Glendale, Arizona, the home base for Thunderbird students and alumni scattered abroad in 148 countries. Sunlight glistens off the metallic surface, and the Sonoran Desert sky peers through openings in the outer layer. The sculpture, called “The Continents,” arrived on a flatbed truck in 2000 as a Homecoming gift from the class of 1960 during the group’s 40th anniversary.

ANNJA, the French artist commissioned to design the piece, envisioned five continents coming together as one — a symbol of movement, communication and exchange among countries and cultures. Appropriately, the inscription at the base memorializes the words of Thunderbird’s second president, William Schurz: “Borders frequented by trade seldom need soldiers.”

A new group of alumni volunteers, organized in December 2013 as the Alumni Council of Thunderbird (ACT), has adopted a similar message of unity for the school’s worldwide community. Created by alumni for alumni, the ACT is the representative voice and lead organizing body of Thunderbird’s global alumni community.

“We need to work together to preserve the mystique that binds us all together,” says ACT member Baron Bruno ’08, an Executive MBA graduate based in Los Angeles, California. “We are One Thunderbird — and we get things done.”

The group’s rallying cry, One Thunderbird, emerged from a brainstorming session during the first ACT conference call on Dec. 11, 2013.

“I believe in One Thunderbird,” says ACT President Joy Lubeck ’86, based in Phoenix, Arizona. “We have the opportunity, together with our alma mater, to re-engage our 40,000 alumni worldwide in a meaningful way, with the goal of mutual collaboration and benefit.”

Because the charter ACT members live and work on four continents and attended Thunderbird over a span of four decades, many have never met in person. Instead, the council has relied on conference calls and emails to learn about each other and set priorities for 2014.

“In a very short time, the members of ACT have developed a wonderful esprit de corps and positive, can-do attitude,” says David Wittenberg ’93, an ACT member and chapter leader in New Delhi, India.

Following is a summary of four ACT focus areas during the group’s inaugural year.

Listening and learning

“Our first order of business is to reach out to you, the alumni network,” Lubeck says. “We want to listen and learn from you as to how ACT, together with Thunderbird, can serve this incredible network of alumni in meaningful ways.”

Already the ACT has started the process of personally reaching out to chapter leaders to better understand their needs.

A broader alumni survey can be found online at “We hope you will all take the time to complete this survey,” Lubeck says. “We will also be inviting alumni to be part of various virtual brainstorming sessions with the support of Professor Bill Youngdahl’s strategic planning tool Teamput”.

Governance and expansion

Besides gathering feedback from stakeholders, the ACT has been working on developing its bylaws to ensure they set a firm foundation for everything the council does going forward.

“We are particularly emphasizing how the ACT is interconnected with all the other key Thunderbird constituents in the pursuit of One Thunderbird,” says London-based ACT member Jonathan Lutz ’96, chairman of ACT’s Governance Committee.

In conjunction with this process, the ACT is finalizing a process for expanding its membership from eight to as many as 20 alumni representatives. An application and nomination form is available at

“We look forward to welcoming new ACT members sometime this summer,” Lutz says. “Stay tuned for more information.”

Programs and services

Another ACT priority is delivering programs and services for the benefit of alumni. Bruno, who heads the ACT Alumni Program and Services Committee, says opportunities for more integrated alumni services will emerge as Thunderbird undertakes technology and systems upgrades at the Arizona campus.

“One of the biggest and most exciting advancements will be the introduction of a new online Thunderbird alumni community and mobile app,” he says.Similar improvements will be made to the alumni website. “We are in the process of securing international business and travel-related discounts and promotions from companies that cater to business executives and global thought leaders,” Bruno says. “These will all be promoted and included in a more robust alumni website.”

Additional ACT initiatives will involve new alumni services at Thunderbird’s International Business Information Centre and Career Management Center.

Faculty engagement

The final ACT priority is building stronger connections between alumni and faculty.

“As many of our alumni have stated, they desire the ability to collaborate with Thunderbird faculty to ensure that students have the best education possible,” says Tony van der Hoek ’89, an ACT member based in Atlanta, Georgia. “As lifelong learners, alumni also benefit personally when they engage with faculty.”

To support this goal, the ACT has identified four ways to connect with faculty. These include:

  • Research. Alumni will be asked to collaborate and pass on their wisdom by sharing their insights and serving as clients by requesting research to be conducted.
  • Classroom preparation. Alumni will be invited to help faculty prepare instructional content by sharing their insights on what knowledge and skills are required for success in the real world.
  • Lifelong education. Alumni already receive a 50 percent discount on all Thunderbird Online professional development programs. The ACT will work to make sure alumni know about these and other opportunities.
  • Faculty visits. The ACT also will help faculty connect with alumni when they travel.

Van der Hoek says these efforts will be mutually beneficial for students, faculty and alumni. “Working together, we can raise Thunderbird’s brand by having the best prepared and motivated community of lifelong learners in the world,” he says. 

ACT updates

Find monthly updates and other information about ACT activities at

Meet the ACT

Thunderbird degree paid quick dividends for Brazilian manager Gabriel Frank ’10, who landed a position as Groupon’s Director of Human Resources for Latin America within two years of finishing the traditional MBA program.“I would not have made that leap without Thunderbird,” says Frank, who manages Groupon activities in nine countries from his São Paulo base. “Every single day I use my Thunderbird skills.”

Frank made the decision to attend Thunderbird long before enrolling in 2008. His introduction to the school came in 2001, when Thunderbird launched an Executive MBA program in São Paulo through a partnership with the American Chamber of Commerce. During the three years that the program operated, Frank worked as a Thunderbird recruiter and traveled twice to the main campus in Arizona.

“That is when I fell in love with Thunderbird,” he says. “I was almost part of the alumni community, even though I had not gone through the program myself.”

By the time Frank arrived at Thunderbird as a full-time student, he had nearly a decade of professional experience in sales, marketing, event promotion, entrepreneurship and consulting. “I was confident and knew what I wanted to learn,” he says.

At graduation he received the Thunderbird President’s Circle Award and the Barton Kyle Yount Award, given to the outstanding student from each class. Since then he has remained active in the alumni community. “I really put a lot of love into the school,” Frank says.

Today he serves with seven other alumni as charter members of the Alumni Council of Thunderbird (ACT). Each has a Thunderbird story to tell.


Gabriel Frank ’10

São Paulo, Brazil
Groupon Director of Human Resources-Latin America; former recruiter for Thunderbird Executive MBA in São Paulo; Barton Kyle Yount Award recipient, spring 2010; speaks Spanish, Portuguese and English.

Being part of the ACT and serving Thunderbird in such a critical time in the school’s history is truly an honor. I envision ACT to actively support the school’s 2020 vision toward sustainable growth by connecting and strengthening our global alumni network. I believe the only way for Thunderbird to thrive in such a competitive world is for us to remain united and leverage our alumni’s core assets: networking, knowledge, and most of all, our global leadership.


Jonathan Lutz ’96

London, United Kingdom
Head of Key Account Management, Deutsche Telekom; marketing career in Asia, Africa, U.K. and U.S.; recipient, Thunderbird Presidential Scholarship; London Alumni Chapter leader; speaks English, French and Mandarin.

I joined the ACT because I wanted to participate in finding new ways to strengthen relations between Thunderbird and its incredible alumni. And the experience thus far hasn’t disappointed: I’ve been really inspired by the energy and ideas of my fellow ACT members. When we hit full stride this summer with the expansion of the team, and we can implement a lot more of these ideas in earnest, I believe we are going to make a huge impact. I can’t wait!


Joy Lubeck ’86

Phoenix, Arizona / ACT President
Talent management consultant and executive coach; former Associate Vice President, Thunderbird Executive Education (2004-2012); former Associate Vice President Thunderbird Alumni Relations (1996-2002); Thunderbird for Good mentor; speaks German, Italian, Spanish and English.

Thunderbird was always destined to be a part of my life. As a child, I discovered my passion for foreign languages and cultures. And in high school, my Spanish and German teachers would tell me about this amazing school in Arizona called Thunderbird.

After spending time in Spain, Austria and Italy, I relocated to Arizona with my husband. I was thrilled because my lifelong dream of attending Thunderbird could commence. I graduated in 1986 with two sons, 3 years and 7 months old, respectively. In 1996 I returned to Thunderbird as the head of Alumni Relations. The alumni volunteer leaders I served were an exemplary group of people who I still am proud to call my friends today. I worked in various other capacities at the school for a total of 16 years, and my eldest son became a Thunderbird graduate in 2010 — a point of great pride. Then in 2012 I began my own leadership development and executive coaching business, The Lubeck Group, LLC, a consultancy dedicated to driving sustainable change through the integration of global business management, leadership development and cross-cultural understanding. Yes, Thunderbird influenced my direction here as well.

I always followed my passion during these cycles of life, and Thunderbird has remained an integral part of who I was and am today. When I was asked to serve as a charter member of the ACT, I decided it was my turn to step up and serve as a volunteer leader. I look forward to collaborating with the most amazing alumni the world has to offer. Long live the Thunderbird mystique!


Yohei Matsumura ’13

Tokyo, Japan
Assistant manager of strategic business planning for NTT DOCOMO, Japan’s biggest mobile service provider; Tokyo Alumni Chapter leader; speaks Japanese and English.

When I joined Thunderbird, I was exceedingly impressed with its global brand. Thunderbird’s diverse students, professors, programs and events are perfectly aligned with the school’s global mission. I enjoyed my Thunderbird experience and relish the school’s uniqueness and mystique. However, realizing that higher education has tremendously changed and become more competitive, I firmly believe that Thunderbird must improve itself for its sustainability before it is too late.

As a student, I launched a project and worked directly with the students, staff and faculty to enhance the quality of classes and student services. We conducted student surveys, interviewed alumni, gathered information from other global schools, and did pilot tests. Some initiatives such as class evaluations were implemented, but there are still a number of possibilities for Thunderbird to maximize its assets.

Since my graduation last spring, I have served as a leader of the Tokyo alumni chapter. With active promotion through Facebook and email, the Tokyo chapter has become more active, doubling the number of First Tuesday participants. It is an amazing benefit for me to meet so many T-birds. With regards to ACT, I am honored and excited to serve alumni worldwide. Together, alumni and the school can maximize Thunderbirds’ influence in the world. I commit to do my best for you and the school under the banner of “One Thunderbird.”


Baron Bruno ’08

Los Angeles, California
Business development and networking professional; former Thunderbird Alumni Network Board member; Thunderbird Global Council member; Executive MBA graduate; speaks Spanish and English.

Growing up with a mentally retarded twin brother made me realize the massive impact education can have on a person. My insatiable curiosity led me to more than 50 countries, and my passion for professional business communication led me to Thunderbird.

Higher education is undergoing massive changes, and I want to stay ahead of the curve and protect our leadership role as an institution and in the business community. We need to be doing more business together and helping each other succeed. As ACT Alumni Benefits Committee Chairman, my mission is to reward T-bird graduates for their dedication and commitment to excellence. ACT’s goal is to strengthen the school’s bond and brand by listening, learning, sharing ideas, promoting professional collaboration, and using new resources and technology.

Change is ongoing and sometimes difficult, but we are dedicated and determined to work hard, build trust and deliver results. United and strong we will change the world as One Thunderbird.


David Wittenberg ’93

New Delhi, India
CEO of The Innovation Workgroup; Thunderbird Global Ambassador; New Delhi Alumni Chapter leader; graduated from Thunderbird with honors and served as research assistant to Professor Ed Barrett; speaks Spanish, French, English and basic German, Portuguese and Hindi.

My association with Thunderbird has proven to be one of my most valuable assets. My goal as an ACT member is to create the maximum possible value for all alumni. Our global network helped me to fulfill my professional dreams. With the help of several Thunderbird alumni, I was able to launch a business overseas.

Eventually, I got to experience both overseas living and global business travel. Along the way, Thunderbirds have helped me with contacts, advice and orders. I’ve helped other T-birds in similar ways. Thunderbirds have become some of my closest friends. My T-bird classmate’s family in India has become my adopted second set of parents!

Through ACT, I expect to advise the school’s leaders to consider the alumni views and interests in every decision and to create new services and programs to support and assist Thunderbirds around the globe with their professional and personal development.


Tony van der Hoek ’89

Atlanta, Georgia
Marketing and strategy executive; Director of Advanced Customer Analytics for Coca-Cola; recipient of Thunderbird Distinguished Alumni Award, 2003; member of Board of Advisers at Thunderbird’s Walker Center for Global Entrepreneurship; speaks English and German.

Why did I become a founding member of the ACT? When I graduated from Thunderbird in 1989, I was vice president of the student government and captain of the rugby team. I have always tried to give to the greater good, and have always enjoyed the passion and industry of T-birds.

Later in my career, I was asked to join the Thunderbird Global Council, the advisory board to the Board of Trustees and the president of the school.

In those days, we debated distance learning and the value of providing courses on the Internet. There was an alumni backlash, as some alumni felt it would destroy the school’s mystique. Today, distance learning is embraced by many students.

Today I also serve on the Advisory Board of Thunderbird’s Walker Center for Global Entrepreneurship. Here I have experienced with great joy the passion of students who seek to improve the world through their endeavors. The mystique of Thunderbird is the passion we all share and the joy we bring to our collaboration.

So, at this time of strife and struggle for the school and our alumni community, I have been asked to join the ACT.

With all that I have done over the years, from hiring interns and full-time associates, participating in research projects, and assisting with the rebranding of the school, I could not say no. It’s just in my DNA — being a T-bird with passion and hope for a bright future.

What would I ask of you, my fellow alumni? Stay the course. Help us become who we are destined to be. I only believe that there is One Thunderbird. We are members of it, no matter what! I look forward to a bright future and will look for you on this journey.


Nona Niner ’81

New York, New York / ACT Vice President
Vice President, JPMorgan Chase; past president, Thunderbird Alumni Network Board; past president, New York City Alumni Chapter; speaks English, French and Spanish.

y involvement with Thunderbird began a few years after I graduated when I joined the New York Alumni Chapter. It was the 1980s before email and the Internet, and we organized many well-attended events ranging from speaker dinners, b-school boat parties to “ethnopigging” dinners.

After serving in various chapter leader positions, including chapter president, I became known as “Miss Thunderbird.” I greatly value my relationships formed with alumni from all parts of the world as they pass through New York, at reunions in Europe and on campus. After 15 years, I was asked to join Thunderbird’s North America Council, part of a network that served as a precursor to today’s ACT.

It had never occurred to me to participate at the global level, but I ended up serving as vice president and then president of the global alumni board over the next five years. Work at the bank became increasingly more demanding in the late 2000s, so I went into semi-retirement from my second “job.” When several alumni trustees approached me to join the ACT, I could not refuse to step up for my beloved Thunderbird. With the ACT, I see a great opportunity to provide a much-needed alumni perspective to the school.

I am committed to improving the communication among the different constituencies of the Thunderbird family.

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