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One of the top business schools in the nation, Thunderbird School of Global Management, recently announced Larry Penley as its new president and Chief Academic Officer. Penley brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in both the business and academic worlds. He was the president of Colorado State University, dean of Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, and chairman of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).

Penley has spent time within the walls of Thunderbird prior to the new positions. He was acting interim CAO and provost since April.

While his plate is always full with the task of furthering his school’s business programs, Penley took time to answer a few questions about being selected as Thunderbird’s president and CAO and what the future will hold with him at the helm.

Q: What are your feelings on being selected as Thunderbird’s president and CAO?

Penley: “Thunderbird’s history gives me strength. Thunderbird was founded on a wartime air field and air training base with a seemingly implausible – but real – vision of the potential of education for international trade and global cooperation. This great vision – as challenging today as it was more than half a century ago – remains part of the fabric of Thunderbird. Lt. General Barton Kyle Yount, Thunderbird’s first president, saw possibility where others saw difficulty. The possibility that he saw gives me the strength to serve as Thunderbird’s president.”

Q: With your distinguished career, what makes this position with this school so appealing?

Penley: “I have come to Thunderbird’s campus for more than 25 years as a visitor – always with admiration and, I will admit, some envy. The thrill upon arriving and seeing the waving flags of dozens of countries was always exceeded by a walk across campus among students from all over the globe. Those students studied, worked in teams, and socialized together, Israeli with Saudi, Chinese with Japanese. What a marvelous place to build a global alumni network that is second to none. I admire this vibrant living and learning environment. I admire the strength of the alumni network, the envy of every other school I have served. Thunderbird is a place that entices and envelopes you as you learn more about it.”


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Q: What separates Thunderbird from other business schools?

Penley: “Thunderbird is unique. I know my fellow business educators are committed to a global learning environment, and I am pleased at their commitment. But the DNA of Thunderbird is distinct; its ethos is unique. Our faculty members, on average, speak three languages; most have lived and worked outside their country of birth. Our students represent the world’s diversity of language and culture. And the alumni network is the strongest of any school I know. Working abroad after graduation is made far easier by an already established social and support network in whichever country one works.”

Q: Are there any specific ideas you plan to implement in the near future for the school?

Penley: “Thunderbird’s next chapter holds great promise. We remain committed to building a future that capitalizes on the Thunderbird mystique and honors our distinctive Thunderbird experience. Our brand is a strong one that can become even stronger with vision and execution. The quality of our degree programs is evident in the success of our alumni. Nevertheless, we have a responsibility to assure that our degree programs deliver on the knowledge, skills and experience that will be needed by business in the years ahead. That means changes that assure that Thunderbird graduates possess the integrative perspective and decision-making acumen demanded of a globally mobile leader in the 21st century. It means that our graduates must learn to use emerging tools in analytics and informatics while also acquiring better analytic and decision-making skills.

“Thunderbird is already a global leader in executive education with outstanding customized programs tailored to deliver innovative solutions to customers. We can build upon that success, expand our reach in this area and enhance the extent to which our degree programs are driven by the managerial pragmatism of our faculty’s experience and expertise in executive education. Finally, Thunderbird has the capacity to build upon its existing online degree programs with initiatives that will expand its reach to educationally under-served regions of the world. We can do this not only because of the increasing sophistication of digital learning technology, but because of our own broad and deep experience base in this area.”

Follow Dustin Bass on Twitter @dustincbass.