UI alumnus leaves past behind with big career

Black Friday. For most people, it’s the one day of the year when they head to their favorite stores and squeeze through the post-Thanksgiving crowds for bargains.

But for every sale and promotion, there’s the planning and strategizing that goes behind it. Whether it’s predicting how many shirts a store needs or forecasting the hot trends a year in advance, for Luke Schenk, a University alumnus, it’s all part of his everyday job.

As the manager of supply chain consulting services at Capgemini, a global consulting firm, Schenk allocates from city to city across the nation, helping various brands and companies manage their supply chain.

For Schenk, life hasn’t always been in the fast lane. Schenk was born and raised in Mount Sterling — a Western Illinois town with a population of 2,000. However, from a young age, Schenk knew the small town farming life wasn’t for him.

“I didn’t drive a tractor until I was seventeen,” Schenk said. “I was a bad farmer’s son.”

As the valedictorian in a graduating class of 60 people, Schenk headed to the University with a veteran’s scholarship from his father’s days as a Vietnam War soldier.

Right away, Schenk knew he wanted to study industrial engineering.

Rather than just being involved with core and technical aspects of engineering, Schenk said he wanted to get more involved with businesses and how the technical skills he learned could be applied.

“That kind of leads into consulting,” Schenk said. “Lots of industrial engineers go into business — still having the analytical and problem solving background — in order to diagnose clients’ issues and come up with solutions.”

After earning his Master’s degree, Schenk joined Capgemini, a French firm whose wide array of clients includes Cadbury, BMW, Conair, Domino Sugar, US Department of Homeland and Security and LVMH (Louis Vuitton and Moet Hennessy).

Over the last three years, Schenk has spent the majority of his time in Columbus, Ohio, working with Limited Brands, parent company of Bath & Body Works, Henri Bendel, and Victoria’s Secret.

On weekends, he divides his time between his cabin in Avon, Colorado and visiting friends in Champaign, Chicago and other cities.

When asked to explain what he does in a nutshell, Schenk said he helps “retail clients optimize their supply chain.”

For the non-engineers and business majors, Schenk elaborated further.

“People think of Victoria’s Secret as more of a marketing advertising brand,” Scenk said. “But if they don’t have the right products at the stores at the right time, they’re not going to make sales. All the commercials, fashion shows are not going to help. What I do is the piece behind the glitz and glamour to make everything successful.”

Schenk said his job in supply chain management — or consulting for that matter — is critical for a company’s success. “You can’t just have every store do their own thing,” Schenk said.

As Schenk explained, brands that focus too heavily on marketing and advertising neglect critical areas for a brand’s success: how and when the product is going to be produced, selecting the fabric, calculating the demand, pricing, promotion, working with a budget and finally distribution to the actual stores at the right time.

“It leads to bad experience — customers wanting something and going into store and not getting it,” Schenk said.

Schenk said even for products such as lotion, location is critical.

“You have two new fragrances and lotions for the upcoming year. One is cactus, one is cherry blossom,” Schenk said. “Do you sell both in the Washington and Texas stores?”

The answer, according to Schenk was no.

“You want to distribution to be even so there’s no excess inventory — to where products are most likely to sell,” Schenk said.

For Schenk, ensuring that each individual project goes well means there are plenty of 12 hour days. His co-workers have plenty to say about his work ethic.

“One of the things that has always impressed me about him is he can always tune in to the audience that he has,” said Kim Dillard, a senior training consultant for Limited Brands,

Dillard said Schenk’s ability to communicate effectively with both associates and those with less experience is the key to his success.

“I think it is a talent not a lot of people have,” Dillard said.

As Schenk starts his new project with Sports Authority in Denver, Colo., he says he hopes to progress to a new level, “doing more sales role of finding clients.”

Meanwhile, he has one thing in mind.

“I’m looking forward to the ski season,” Schenk said. “It’s about flexibility: work hard, play hard.”