This summer I joined a course which was offered at Booth for the very first time, Marketing and Managing Luxury. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Part of me hoped that we’d be spending the quarter trying on chinchilla furs and lamenting how difficult it was to get good help these days.
Instead, over the following 10 weeks, I found myself in one of the most fascinating industry electives our school has to offer. In addition to learning that a chinchilla is a rodent (seriously, do rich people know this?), I developed a broad understanding of a wildly profitable industry and walked away with a number of toolkits and frameworks that can be applied across industries.
Professor Steven Fischer brings to the course an infectious enthusiasm and draws from his personal experience in the field. He founded a luxury leather goods line which was carried by London’s elite department store Harrods and has taught courses on luxury and fashion at Kellogg for over a decade.
His motivation for teaching lies in his belief that recent socioeconomic trends make the study of luxury more relevant than ever. He argues that worsening income inequality will lead to growth at the lower and higher ends of the market. “Most firms know how to appeal to the lower and middle market, but we’ve done little to teach managers how to deal with the high end,” says Professor Fischer. “As we learn in class, this requires a very different approach.”
His coursework was certainly challenging. We were assigned weekly memos and heavy reading with more hard-to-pronounce European names than an Interpol database. We explored a wide range of sectors from fashion to transportation and examined current industry trends. We also took a deep dive into the history of luxury, which, to my surprise, involves more than fancy people being fanned by palm leaves and hand-fed individual grapes.
Perhaps, most important of all, were our case studies in management and marketing. Among other lessons, these provided us with frameworks on how to drive demand by building a brand image that transcends the product and how to leverage human capital without stifling creativity - all competencies highly relevant outside of luxury.
Our guest speakers provided unique insight into the real world applicability of such approaches. James Quarles, Global Head of Business and Brand Development at Instagram, joined us via Skype to detail the importance of aligning all elements of communication strategy in maintaining a consistent message. David Kohler, CEO of the Kohler Company, visited class and shared his perspective on how to create a culture that fosters innovation and pushes the boundaries of design. As a creative marketer with a background in finance, I found these lessons especially useful.
Overall, I take away from this course a deeper understanding of an industry with tremendous opportunity and several new arrows in my Booth MBA quiver. It’s a beautiful quiver made from handcrafted Midwestern leather woven in a subtle, but defiant, patchwork that screams intellectual rigor. Sorry, I have luxury on the mind.
Kabir Iyengar | Current Evening MBA student