BA 1989, Brian Lamb School of Communication
Executive Vice President, Director, Weber Shandwick Worldwide, Chicago, IL
As executive vice president of Weber Shandwick, a leading global communication company, Michael Schiferl says he never has a dull moment at work. From the excitement of launching new consumer products like Microsoft’s Xbox, celebrating Oreo’s 100th birthday, or revealing countless Super Bowl ads, to the not-fun-at-all work of crisis communication, Schiferl is on the job when people are abuzz about a topic, brand, or issue that Weber Shandwick had a role in shaping.
“One funny story illustrates why I always answer my wife’s question of ‘How was work?’ with the same response of ‘work was work,’” he explains. “It is usually just too hard to explain what occurs on a given day, or in the case of one funny story, at night. Years ago, Pizza Hut became the first brand in outer space when they put what was then their new logo on the side of a Russian rocket and sent the first-ever space-worthy pizza to the International Space Station (ISS). The logistical challenges of how we pulled off such a technical program defy a simple explanation, but included a very low-tech dependency on a particular Russian translator, who was sometimes lost in translation on the many requests we put before him for our stunt-like idea. The day the ISS rocket launch was scheduled, my client called our house about 3 a.m. in a total panic because soldiers at the launch site in Kazakhstan were chasing our film crews away from the rocket with machine guns in tow. Even at 3 in the morning, I immediately recognized my client’s voice and her angst to resolve the situation quickly via our Russian friend. My wife, however, who answered the phone after being startled awake from a deep sleep, wanted to know who in the world this woman was, calling in the middle of the night? And, furthermore, why wasn’t I startled by the call and why did I need to go to the office immediately? “
“After successfully figuring out how to get footage from the ISS back to earth and share it worldwide, and overall success in the stunt, that same client graciously and unexpectedly sent a huge bouquet of flowers to our home in appreciation. I didn’t know they were coming, so when my wife and I approached our house together after work and saw them on our front porch, my wife asked gushingly, ‘Did you send me flowers?’ I shared that I hadn’t and wasn’t sure why there was such a truly huge flower arrangement on our porch. She thought maybe I was teasing her until she read the card attached, which said something like, ‘What an out-of-this world time! Thanks for everything!’ and was signed by that same female client who called in the middle of the morning. For years to come, it was a running joke with my client that while I appreciated her kind gesture, she should never call in the middle of the night and should send flowers to the office instead.”
It’s amazing that decades later, I still recall courses in communication and professors like Denise Bostdorff so vividly. Beyond classes, however, experiences outside the classroom had more impact in many ways. I wrote (briefly) for The Exponent, served on Occupational Outlook (I’m not sure if still exists, but it used to welcome young alums back to campus long before they were Old Masters), worked as a waiter at the Kappa house, and many other adventures that come with living away from home for four years. Figuring out things like how to live off $5 for a week until I could get money, or the many adventures at the Delt house—which were far from rooted in academic coursework—helped me grow tremendously and shaped me more than I realized at the time.
It’s hard to have one favorite memory as there are so many. I do recall many adventures at a then bigger-capacity yet much more tightly configured Ross-Ade (all students had free tickets), including what was one of the first night games in years against Ohio State. Purdue lost terribly, but the campus was alive with fun all weekend. I am also amazed how, long before social media, the whole campus seemed to know about the (truly) Naked Olympics at the Quad each winter. My senior year I was a Purdue student host for campus tours, which was memorable not so much for the tours with future students, but because it meant my schedule was blocked so I’d have no classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons (for potential tours). This allowed me, when I finally turned 21 during my senior year, to stake out the front window booth at Harry’s, along with another fraternity brother, as early as noon most Fridays (and perhaps even a few Wednesdays and Mondays, too).
When I graduated, I didn’t expect to be so involved with Purdue years later. I’ve had the privilege of serving on two external advisory boards, including Purdue’s Discovery Park, a multi-disciplinary research and learning center, and co-chairing the Brian Lamb School of Communication’s advisory board. In 2007, I was fortunate to combine work travel and present at a global communication conference with Purdue faculty at Tsinghau University in China. It’s been great to be at Purdue fairly often. I’m continually amazed that paradoxically, much has stayed the same while it has changed radically. Both now and then, the hard-working and down-to-earth people of Purdue are what made and make it meaningful.
Together with my wife, being parents to our two beautiful daughters.
Person I Admire
I’m going to cheat a bit on this answer and say “Chonna.” Long before “Bennifer” or other Hollywood name combos of couples, my five siblings and I have referred to our parents Charles and Donna as “Chonna” as in “have you talked to Chonna?” or “What’s Chonna doing for Thanksgiving?” After more than 50 years of marriage, they are still a unified team, and often of the same mind, while far from being clones of each other. From a very young age, they instilled in us the importance of education, learning, and involvement in community. Collectively, we’ve earned eight college degrees (including three from Purdue), and more importantly, we try to live by the example they set.
Idea of Perfect Happiness
No deadlines and unending freedom to travel and explore the world—I’m just as happy on a favorite beach on the south side of Puerto Rico (near Guánica) as cities I’ve been fortunate to visit like Prague, Rome, Paris, or Buenos Aires.
What I’m Reading
I am too often reading my e-mails, and not books, unfortunately. One of my favorite recent books was Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning by Jonathan Mahler, about the Yankees and NYC in the late 1970s. Usually I prefer books that are either historical, non-fiction, or about places.
Profession I’d Like to Try
I’m not sure I would actually attempt it, but it would be great to be a professional traveler—maybe one who is paid to chronicle visits to out-of-the-way restaurants and less familiar hotels.