Thunderbird History

Thunderbird History

Lt. General YountThunderbird School of Global Management was chartered on April 8, 1946, by Lieutenant General Barton Kyle Yount, the Commanding General of the US Army Air Training Command. The school grew out of the rich history of its campus grounds – Thunderbird Field, a historic airbase steeped in multicultural tradition where American, Canadian, British and Chinese pilots trained during World War II. 

General Yount’s dream was to create the first US-based international business school focused on growing and educating international business leaders with an education firmly rooted in cultural customs as well as sound business and management practices.

Thunderbird’s unique curriculum emphasizes knowing the cultures, languages and business practices of other countries in order to thrive in a global economy. The curriculum allows student to develop the business hard skills and the cross-cultural soft skills to succeed in a world where business has no borders.

Thunderbird history at a glance

Thunderbird has undergone countless changes over the many years since its founding – but our focus is still firmly rooted in global citizenship, global management and creating leaders with the skills and mindset to make lasting social and economic change worldwide. Thunderbird’s rich legacy and founding principles are still honored today.

  • April 8, 1946 - The school is chartered on Thunderbid Field as a not-for-profit organization known as the American Institute for Foreign Trade; General Yount is named president. A number of landmark buildings, including the airfield control tower, barracks and airplane hangars remain on the modern campus today.
  • June 20, 1946 - Thunderbird Field, which appraised for $407,000, was purchased by General Yount for just $1, under the condition that it be used for educational purposes for 10 years. 
  • October 1, 1946 - Classes begin on the historic Thunderbird campus with 285 students from 45 of the 48 states.Only 40% were college graduates; 98% percent attended under the G.I. Bill. 
  • June 14, 1947 - The first class of T-birds graduates, poised to enter the world as global business leaders with the economic, linguistic and cultural knowledge and skills to lead the world through the second half of the 20th century and beyond.
  • By 1955 there were two degrees offered: a Bachelor of Foreign Trade and a Master of Foreign Trade. By 1975, the bachelor’s degree was dropped, leaving just the master’s degree that required credit hours in international studies, language and world business. 
  • In 2001 Thunderbird adapted the Master of International Management (MIM) degree into the Master of Business Administration in International Management (later Global Management). 
  • To preserve the ideals of the first president and founder of the school, the Barton Kyle Yount Award was created. It is still awarded today to the member of each graduating class who most adheres to Yount’s ideals from the standpoint of scholarship, accomplishment and character. 

Modern Highlights

  • In any given trimester, more than 50 countries are represented in the student body, offering diversity just by attendance, as well as courses and activities that promote cross-cultural ideals.
  • Thunderbird’s global presence includes operations in the US, Europe, Latin America, China and Russia.
  • For more about Thunderbird’s history and photos, visit the Arizona Memory Project.
  • To listen to Thunderbird faculty and staff, past and present, talk about Thunderbird’s history and legacy, visit Arizona Memory Project Oral Histories.