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Thunderbirds Go the Extra Mile

by C'pher Gresham

My friends and family often ask me how Thunderbird is different than other business schools. What exactly makes it more international? In the past, I would tell them how every class is internationally focused and how over half of our student body hails from outside the US. However, on this TEM Lab something else became apparent to me: Thunderbirds are unique because they go the extra mile—both physically and professionally.
 

In our first week in Tunisia, we told attaches with the US Embassy, venture capitalists from Tunisia and abroad, and entrepreneurs that we were headed into the heart of Tunisia. They were flabbergasted. They would say, “Why are you going to Sidi Bouzid? There isn’t even a restaurant there!” or “Besides sand and a border with Libya, what’s in Tataouine?” Most of the individuals we talked with were well educated (many had MBAs) and lived in the posh Tunis suburbs of Carthage and La Marsa.  We also have noticed when other Western universities operate in Tunisia, they tend to focus on the most developed costal cities. For example, the George Washington University (my alma mater) runs a hospitality program on the vacation island of Djerba.
 
We literally went the extra miles to reach the heart of Tunisia. That is where the revolution started, need for development is greatest, and where the investment of time and resources is least. Even in our downtime, Thunderbirds want to travel farther than most. On one break we traveled to an oasis called Ksar Ghilane, deep in the Sahara desert. We saw only one other westerner there.
 
Thunderbirds are game to travel hours to “backwater” villages in a 1987 van with questionable brakes, no air conditioning, and seemingly no suspension. And once we get there, we shine. We held focus groups with students living in these towns. We surveyed the students. We talked with directors. We made friends with the local restaurant owners and taxi drivers. We ingratiated ourselves with the local community.
 

Even though Thunderbird is the number-one school for international business, we fight like a determined rookie who has nothing to lose and everything to gain. For instance, the official deliverable for our project is a report to our client. However, we also decided to prepare miniature reports for the three universities we worked with in Sidi Bouzid, Tataouine, and Medenine. Why the work extra? We believe in their mission and in their people. They are positioned to create sustainable prosperity, and that’s what we value.
 
Back in Tunis, we met more international specialists at organizations like the African Development Bank and World Bank and got more incredulous looks. They found both the distance we traveled and the rigor or our work remarkable. Thunderbirds travel the extra mile and give the extra mile of effort.