The past few weeks have been quite busy on the Thunderbird campus. One of the more significant events was the inaugural Global Business Dialogue, which brought more than 1,000 alumni and distinguished business and social sector leaders from over 50 countries to discuss current global leadership challenges.

The conference culminated with a dedication and official re-opening of one of the campus’ most noteworthy historical structures, the original Tower building.

Starting off the conference proceedings was alumnus Bob Dudley ’79, chief executive of BP, who gave his thoughts on “leadership in times of crisis,” something he is familiar with, after having taking the helm of BP following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf last year.

In his opening keynote, he stressed the importance of having a” thick skin” and being a “quiet, determined optimist” – qualities that have served him throughout his career and have been well documented.

The first day’s luncheon keynote was given by Craig Barrett, former chief executive/chairman of Intel and Thunderbird faculty member, who delivered one of the more memorable speeches I have ever heard, simply stating three rules of life and business that he had gleaned from experience and fortune cookies.

  • The world will always accept talent with open arms.
  • You can’t win unless you compete.
  • A small deed done is better than a big deed planned.

We were reminded that the most profound messages and ultimate answers to the pressing problems we face are often the simplest on the surface, not despite their lack of complexity but because of it.

The evening keynote was delivered by Jose Maria Figueres, former president of Costa Rica, who painted a dire picture of the future of the planet if we do not pay more attention to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. He said that the outcome is up to us, but warned that if not taken seriously we will cause irreparable harm, adding “There is no planet B.”

As well as the speeches there were breakout discussions with regional experts on topics such as ease of doing business, growth prospects, local government, regulations, energy, global branding strategies, private equity and social media.

Mark Penn, worldwide chief executive for Burson-Marsteller made the closing speech. He said that companies seeking to protect their global brands and reputations in today’s high-speed, dynamic business environment must constantly monitor and undertake an active dialogue with their customers, and ultimately be willing to rebrand according to shifting paradigms.

Before the celebration to commemorate the re-opening of the Tower building, the conference acknowledged military veterans and the role that the Thunderbird campus played as a training ground for American, Canadian, British and Chinese pilots during World War II. This was especially fitting as it was veterans day in the US.

Having such a significant role in Thunderbird’s history it was only natural that students would rally around the Tower building to save and restore it after it had fallen into disrepair and been declared structurally unsound in 2007. This student-led initiative was given the needed momentum when alumnus and board member Merle Hinrichs ’65, chief executive Global Sources, donated $2m to kick start more than 1,000 donations from students and alumni.

The celebration was a nice way to wrap up what I believe exceeded even the wildest of expectations from the Thunderbird community and our deep gratitude goes out to him and everyone who made it a success.

Here’s to the next Thunderbird Global Business Dialogue in Berlin 2012 and continuing with that success!

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