Professor Schewe Looks Ahead and Reflects on 42 Years at Isenberg
February 12, 2015
After 42 ½ years, Charles D. Schewe, the doyen of Isenberg marketing professors, is retiring. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Professor Schewe will continue once a year to teach his dynamic course, Tools for Professional Success in Marketing. The course, which satisfies the capstone thesis requirement for honors students in marketing, assigns student consulting teams to hands-on marketing challenges, mostly at large corporations like LEGO, Carvel, Boston Scientific, and Covidien.
With Schewe in the role as consulting manager and coach, the student teams, working with considerable autonomy, navigate a client’s culture, dissect problems to be solved, and create a report and presentation for their professor and the client. “Beginning in the early 1990s, I did lots of consulting for high-profile firms like Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s,” Schewe recalls. “Along the way, I realized that putting students in a similar role would give them a higher-level, more nuanced learning experience. That’s why I created the Tools course.”
That seminar, notes Schewe, has attracted stellar students who went on to excel as professionals. They include Matt Gattuso ’92 (Covidien), Elizabeth Jenkins ’12 (Hill Holliday), Charlotte Spatcher ’12 (OgilvyOne Worldwide), and last year’s Isenberg graduation student speaker, Derek Monson ’14 (Havas Worldwide). But the legion of former students who swear by Schewe spans over four decades. Schewe alumni include venture capitalist Frank Kline ’74 M.S., top wealth investment manager Scott Welch ’80 MBA, Boston Scientific senior vice president Michael Sorkin ’82, and hundreds of other movers and shakers.
“It was Charlie Schewe who took me under his wing and helped me to think like a strategist,” remarked David Fubini ’76 in his keynote address at Isenberg’s Business Leadership Awards banquet last June at Boston’s Colonnade Hotel. The former head of McKinsey & Company’s Boston office, Fubini was the event’s principal honoree. Back in the mid-1970s, Schewe secured a student project for him with Spalding Sports Worldwide in Chicopee. That gave him a great hands-on learning experience and connections that helped him launch his career.
Schewe Knows Cohorts
Two decades later, Professor Schewe’s reputation went national—as cofounder of generational cohort marketing. It all began, he remarks, with his December 1994 American Demographics article, “The Power of Cohorts.” “Overnight, the phone was off the hook with requests from companies who wanted us to help position their products and services with cohort-targeted strategies and messages,” he recalls.
Cohorts are not generations, Schewe cautions. The latter, he says, are defined by when children are born. Cohorts, in contrast, gain their identity from “signal” external events during their members’ coming-of-age years (ages 17-23). “In our culture, those years mark the transition when young people form the values and core identities that will stay with them as adults,” he emphasizes. “If you understand a cohort’s core values, you have a strategic advantage in targeting and tailoring messages, products, and services.” In retirement, he plans to continue advancing his research to identify cohort structures in other countries, some of which have very different “defining” events.
Schewe and his coauthors’ 2002 book, Defining Markets, Defining Moments (Hungry Minds), is a marketer’s field guide to seven generational cohorts. The book dissects and explains the origins of each cohort’s values and offers strategies for segmenting market strategies accordingly. In his own consulting practice, Schewe recalls advising Kellogg’s on “building youth” into oat-based products targeted to Baby Boomers. That cohort, he notes, wants to be “forever young.” In a second cohort-based project, he helped the Vermont Country Store in Manchester create a catalog targeted to the Post-War (WWII) cohort. The catalog, which played to the cohort’s defining optimism and conventionality, offered Lincoln Logs and muu muus, felt hats and saddle shoes.
Schewe, whose accolades include an honorary doctorate in 2013 from Lund University in Sweden, also has lots of insights about the youngest cohort, the Millennials. They came of age with the advent of the Internet (their defining event) and have also been shaped by 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Great Recession. They are tech savvy, ambitious, independent, idealistic, team-oriented, and eager to embrace diversity and global communities. “Millennials are far more creative and innovative than prior cohorts and need to be challenged,” he emphasizes. The older cohorts who employ them though are making a mistake, he says, if they insist that the Millennials have to bend to us; that we’re not going to bend to them! So older generations take note: The Millennials have too much to offer and there are too many of them, says Schewe.
Reinventing a Profession
The Millennials’ time line, notes Schewe, dovetails with marketing’s own tech-driven transformation. “Over the past 15 years, the Internet has changed everything in our discipline,” he remarks. Marketing analytics and Big Data have created a new playing field. Marketing shops are smaller and marketers must adapt to compressed product life cycles and dynamic pricing. And consumer empowerment via the Internet and the rising tide of social media have flipped the old order on its head. (A student team in Schewe’s Tools course, he adds, generated 2000 social media responses from consumers on behalf of a client in one night.)
In a profession that continues to reinvent itself, Professor Schewe remains a reliable compass for his students, offering mentorship that helps them navigate through the noise of ongoing change. Drawing on his relationships with alumni and industry, he connects students to opportunities for real-world learning and problem solving. And he stays energized by interacting with the students themselves. “As Millennials, they’re on top of things more than we are, particularly technological advancements,” Schewe remarks. “Interacting with them is a learning experience that helps keep me current.”