Thunderbird boosts support for alumni engagement

Thunderbird has long recognized the value of its alumni network, organized into 171 chapters led by 261 volunteers worldwide. Surveys of veteran alumni — conducted 20 years after their graduation — show that these T-birds have visited 26.6 countries and spent 9.4 years outside their home countries, on average. They speak 2.2 languages at the advanced or intermediate levels, and they volunteer 83.4 hours of their time each year in their communities.

Professionally, 38.3 percent have held C-level positions in their organizations, and 47.8 percent have owned or founded their own companies. For these reasons and more, The Economist ranks the group No. 1 among business schools for internationalism of alumni, and No. 2 for potential to network.

Vision 2020, which the school unveiled in 2010 following stakeholder meetings around the world, puts special emphasis on protecting and strengthening this network. “For Thunderbird to have true global impact, it must create meaningful linkages that connect the entire Thunderbird community,” Vision 2020 states as one of four main strategic priorities. Despite financial setbacks and other challenges, Thunderbird remains committed to this goal with new support from Laureate Education, Inc., through a planned strategic alliance. Following is a summary of progress already made or planned.


Citigroup executive Douglas Short ’75 came to Thunderbird with hopes of launching a global banking career. Since then he has lived and worked in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea and various places in Europe. “Mine is the classic Thunderbird story,” says Short, Global Compliance Head for Regulatory Coordination and Oversight at Citigroup headquarters in New York. “Thunderbird has opened doors for me all over the world.”

Entrepreneur Kevin Rohrer ’82 turned his Thunderbird degree into a different type of global career. The California native moved to Hong Kong after graduation and founded Matex Technologies, which helps U.S. companies export building materials and other products to China. “Thunderbird is a magical place that helped me launch my global career,” says Rohrer, who also serves as Hong Kong alumni chapter leader and as Asia Regional Chairman of the Thunderbird Global Council. “I am happy to give back to my alma mater, a community of big thinkers and doers who are revolutionizing business education for future global leaders.”

Both global leaders will represent Thunderbird alumni as new members of the school’s Board of Trustees. Overall, the board elected five new members in fall 2013, including a past board chairman who has been associated with Thunderbird for more than 26 years. The trustees join the volunteer board as the school moves forward with growth plans that include new global campuses, a new undergraduate program, and expanded online and executive education programs.

“The planned changes provide evidence of the Board’s willingness to take bold action, both in recognizing the significant changes sweeping through higher education and in leveraging the unique assets of the school,” says new Thunderbird Trustee John Berndt, a past chairman who served previously on the board from 1987 to 2009 and from 2011 to 2012. Berndt also served as interim Vice President of Thunderbird Executive Education and later as the school’s Chief Operating Officer.

The other new trustees are John Henrickson, retired vice president of IBM and a member of the Thunderbird Global Council, and Klaus Knappik, CEO at MLA International Consulting and former CEO and President of the airfreight company Swisscargo. Thunderbird’s board now has 26 members, including 14 alumni. All have a wealth of experience and unique global perspectives. “As Thunderbird moves forward on international expansion plans, the awareness and understanding that these new trustees bring in Asia and other parts of the world will be extremely valuable,” says Thunderbird President Larry Edward Penley, Ph.D.


Thunderbird’s Board of Trustees took additional steps during its annual meeting Oct. 3-4, 2013, to increase its focus on alumni support and engagement. A new Alumni Relations and Marketing Committee led by Trustees G. Kelly O’Dea ’72 and Mike Hecomovich ’97 will encourage collaboration and input from several alumni and non-alumni stakeholders who have an interest in alumni engagement and communications. One immediate issue will be the future direction and composition of Thunderbird’s alumni board, launched in 2006 as a way to consolidate alumni regional councils. Plans to recruit a diverse mix of alumni leaders for a revitalized version of this board will be announced soon.


During its annual meeting, the Board of Trustees also approved an additional $2 million for support of alumni relations, under management of the Alumni Relations and Marketing committee.
The funding will be made possible through the school’s planned strategic alliance with Laureate, which will produce up to $79 million for the school at closing with an estimated 10-year revenue stream of $370 million to $375 million. These funds will be available after deal closing, which will occur following approval from the school’s accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission.


Thunderbird already has added two staff positions to serve alumni. They triple what had been a one-person effort from Terri Nissen, who continues in her position as Senior Director of Alumni Relations. One position is Director of Alumni Engagement for the Career Management Center. This position is the first step in a broader commitment to provide career services for life for all Thunderbird alumni.

Meanwhile, April Morales ’14 works as alumni chapter coordinator. She supports alumni chapter leaders and helps them keep their databases current. She also fields inquiries from alumni and steers them toward available Thunderbird resources. “I am excited to join Terri Nissen in the Alumni Relations Office, and I look forward to helping alumni in every way I can,” says Morales, a student in the school’s Global MBA for Latin American Managers program.

Captions: Top, alumni mingle during a welcome reception May 24, 2012, during the Thunderbird European Reunion in Berlin, Germany. Middle, Douglas Short ’75 and Kevin Rohrer ’82 are new members of the Board of Trustees. Bottom, April Morales ’14 is alumni chapter coordinator.

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