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Francis Gonzalez ’96Francis Gonzalez ’96

Gonzalez works in global supply planning for Nike apparel.Gonzalez works in global supply planning for Nike apparel.

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Grad turns Willamette studies into successful career at Nike

Not everyone can say that their workplace includes a lake, two fitness centers, running trails and soccer fields.

But Francis Gonzalez ’96 sees these features daily in his job at the NIKE, Inc. World Headquarters near Portland.

It’s an ideal setting for someone who loves sports, particularly basketball and soccer. And it’s quite different from where Gonzalez saw himself when he majored in politics at Willamette University.

His passion for policy took him to Washington, D.C. twice — once for a semester-long study program, and again to intern with the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance.

While these opportunities transformed his academic experience, they also taught him a few things about his career goals: that he preferred to stay in the Northwest, and that he wanted to explore options outside of politics.

He applied for a position at Nike after graduation — and so began a fulfilling 15-year career with one of the world’s best-known athletic companies.

“Willamette equipped me well to market myself for a job at Nike that was outside my major,” he says. “I was able to dive deep into my politics studies, but I also got a well-rounded education that allowed me to try out other interests.”

Using His Degree

It’s not unusual to bump into Willamette graduates at Nike. At least 65 former Bearcats work for the company, in everything from footwear development to human resources to brand marketing.

Gonzalez focuses on global supply planning for Nike apparel, an area that impacts anyone who walks into a store to buy a Nike-branded shirt or pair of pants.

Others at the company analyze the apparel market to figure out what type of clothing consumers will want and when. Then Gonzalez’s team works with Nike’s factory partners to make sure they reserve enough space to meet the projected demand. His team also coordinates global purchasing and tracks delivery of the products.

“It’s a complex puzzle, especially when consumers’ tastes are constantly changing,” Gonzalez says. “The liberal arts education I got at Willamette helps me to think outside of the box. Instead of trying to address business questions with a prescribed formula, I’m able to examine issues with a different perspective and think more creatively about how to solve them.”

Gonzalez’s politics studies have also informed his views on organizational behavior and how international politics affect trade — issues that impact his work at Nike.

Living the Motto

Outside of academics, one of Gonzalez’s most memorable lessons at Willamette came from volunteering in the community with his fraternity, Kappa Sigma.

“Our fraternity always stressed the Willamette motto, ‘Not unto ourselves alone are we born.’ At Nike, I try to reflect on the implications of my team’s decisions on people upstream and downstream from us, instead of only considering how the issues will affect our team. We have to think about how our work fits into the bigger picture and how we influence those around us.

“The Willamette motto has really stuck with me. It extends far beyond community service to encompass your overall place and impact in the world.”