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Alumni Spotlight

For the Love of the Sport

Paris Fashion Week isn’t really Michael Hansen’s scene. He’s a sports-arena guy, feeling more in his element at a Final Four basketball game or a French Open tennis match.

But last fall, Hansen’s work in sports marketing at Nike took him to Paris, where he found himself backstage at a fashion show that included Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner, wondering at the abstract high fashion of the runway.

The energy was palpable,” Hansen remembers. “A Nike colleague asked me what it felt like to be at the center of the fashion universe.”

Though the 1983 MBA alum has worked at Nike for the past eighteen years, he’s still often amazed by the places his job lands him—such as a fashion show unveiling Nike’s latest collaboration with designer Virgil Abloh, one of the biggest names in sports fashion.

As senior director of global sports marketing, Hansen spends much of his time working with Nike’s sponsored athletes. Most of the athletes—celebrities known to sports fans the world over—are surprisingly down-to-earth, he says. Take Vashti Cunningham, for example. The reigning USA national champion high jumper with Tokyo 2020 aspirations, Cunningham and several other Nike athletes joined Hansen in Paris to model Abloh’s track-and-field–inspired line. A fashion aficionado, Cunningham was beyond excited to walk alongside a star-studded field of supermodels—and even more giddy when Hansen texted to tell her she’d made the cover of the fashion journal Women’s Wear Daily. “She freaked out,” Hansen says. “That was fun.”

After a series of career pivots, from commercial real estate and university administration to strategic planning and marketing, Hansen turned his lifelong passion for sports into a dream job.

“Each move felt like a natural progression in which I could leverage my experience and skill set in new ways,” he says. “I loved the challenge of stepping a bit into the unknown.”

Hansen’s playbook for landing the dream job and living his best life? Staying grounded in what matters most—family and faith—and always being open to new possibilities, all while giving back to the university that set him on his journey.

The Divine Center

A native of Southern California, Hansen was raised in a hardworking family and grew up nurturing a love for sports. “From the time I was young, I was fascinated by sports both as a fan and participant, but I figured out pretty early that I wasn’t going to be the next Jerry West,” he observes.

Hansen always knew he’d study at BYU. “The unique combination of academic rigor in a faith-based, values-oriented institution led me to choose BYU,” he says. “It also didn’t hurt that I was a big fan of BYU sports.” After completing a mission in France for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1980 and then finishing his bachelor’s degree in general studies in 1981, Hansen enrolled in BYU Marriott’s MBA program, where several experiences set the course for the rest of his life.

During his second year, Hansen took a class from Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and something of an idol to his business students. “On the morning after a major snowstorm, Professor Covey mentioned that he was worried about the deck at his Sundance cabin collapsing under the weight of all the snow,” recalls Hansen.

Knowing that Covey had back problems, Hansen offered to help him remove the snow. After shoveling together, “we had a wonderful discussion about his new book, The Divine Center. He gave me a signed copy of the book, which remains a prized possession,” Hansen says. “The key theme is how to manage conflicting demands on our time—work, school, family, church, and so on. The secret to achieving balance is to always keep God at the center of our lives, and He will tell us what should come second at any given time. I’ve not always been completely successful in achieving the balance I would like, but that ‘divine center’ principle has been my guiding philosophy.”

BYU Marriott also led Hansen to his wife. He met Jeanne, a fellow MBA student, in the MBA lounge in the annex of the Jesse Knight Building. “For me, it was love at first sight,” he remembers. “For her, not so much.” Once he finally convinced Jeanne that he was worth taking a chance on, they were married in the Los Angeles California Temple.

Jeanne graduated the year after her husband, and the young couple settled in Pasadena, California. Hansen became involved in commercial real estate while Jeanne worked at Bank of America, eventually rising to a vice president position before scaling back as each of their four children arrived.


What Ships Are Built For

Hansen still remembers sitting in MBA professor Garth Hanson’s communications class. “He mentioned that the average person makes three major changes over the course of a career,” Hansen says. “Not job changes but career changes. I remember thinking how crazy that was, but that’s exactly what has happened over the course of my life.”

After several years in private-sector real estate, Hansen was recruited by UCLA to join the administration as director of real estate. He was responsible for the university’s real-estate ventures, including the leasing and acquisition of office space, and the development of faculty housing. In those ventures, Hansen worked closely with the university chancellor and was soon hired as his assistant.

After thirteen years at UCLA, Hansen got a call from a friend with news that would change his life: a position in strategic planning at Nike had opened. Would he be interested in applying?

Hansen knew that a move to Nike headquarters in Oregon and a jump into the corporate world would be a big change, but he and Jeanne had spent their lives together preparing for a chance like this. Once when they were in the midst of making a big decision, Jeanne emailed him a John A. Shedd quote that has guided every step they’ve taken since: “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

“I had developed a philosophy guided by two main principles,” Hansen says. “First, just being open to possibilities and opportunities, and never being afraid to take risks. That’s the career advice I’ve given my own family and those I’ve mentored. The second principle is to maintain a network. And often, these insights materialize into real ventures—like a job opening at Nike.” Hansen pursued the lead, and the next thing he knew, he and his family were headed to Portland.

Too Good to Be True

At Nike headquarters, Hansen felt right at home.

“The chance to be a part of an amazing brand such as Nike was too good to be true,” says Hansen, who eventually moved from strategic planning into sports marketing. “Early on at Nike, I read a quote from founder Phil Knight that said something like, ‘Nike is the place where you can watch college football on a Saturday afternoon and have it count as work research.’ That helps define what I like about Nike: it combines my career with my passion for sports.”

Being conversant—about key players, competition schedules, upcoming milestones—in just about any sport is a day-to-day job requirement. That’s no problem for Hansen, who prides himself on being a fan of every sport, though he did have to work a bit to appreciate soccer. “I didn’t grow up a fan,” he says, “but I’ve gotten to the point where I genuinely enjoy it, and that’s something I wouldn’t have thought possible twenty-five years ago.”

Part of his current position is keeping tabs on up-and-coming stars around the world and staying current on Nike’s roster of contracted athletes. Hansen works with marketing creatives to select athletes for campaigns that span sport and region and with production teams to coordinate logistics at photo shoots. “Inevitably, when schedules don’t go according to plan, we’ll make adjustments to make sure the athletes are taken care of while also making sure the content we need gets captured,” Hansen explains.

“There’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing one of our ads on TV for the first time after having played a role in the creative process,” he continues. “I love walking through one of our retail doors and seeing imagery from a photo shoot I helped execute.”

The Power of Sport

Hansen is often asked which athletes he has met. Though he’s reluctant to provide a comprehensive list—his kids tease him about name dropping—he does admit that after nearly twenty years and countless campaigns, he’s been at photo shoots with nearly all of Nike’s elite athletes. Pressed for examples, he lists shoots with Neymar in Barcelona, Maria Sharapova in Malibu, Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, Alex Morgan in Hawaii, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in Florida, and a particularly memorable shoot with Katarina Johnson-Thompson on the roof of the Paris Opera.

But if he had to choose a favorite, Hansen says it would probably be the shoot with tennis player Rafael Nadal in his hometown of Manacor on Mallorca, a Spanish resort island. “Walking through the streets with him and visiting the club where he learned to play tennis was a bit surreal,” he says. “Then having dinner with him and his family was amazing. It was a day I’ll never forget.”

From Paris to Malibu, Hansen’s work takes him across the globe to some of the world’s most visually stunning locations. Some years he spends up to a quarter of his time on the road, once racking up 200,000 miles of air travel in one year. Jeanne often joins him, and Hansen prioritizes making it back by Sunday whenever possible to attend to his duties as bishop of a Portland young single adult ward. Olympic years are the busiest; he attended both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 events, calling them a “three-week adrenaline rush.” He’s already gearing up for

the 2020 games in Tokyo, attending planning meetings and trying to predict which Nike athletes will be competing.

Without a doubt, working for Nike was the best professional decision he’s ever made, says Hansen. Beyond the brushes with celebrities and the breathtaking world travel, the brand espouses a mission he can get behind.

“At Nike we believe in the power of sport to move the world forward,” Hansen explains. “Our mission is ‘to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.’ A key part of that mission is our marketing, our storytelling. The goal is to move people, to inspire them to action. I love being part of the process that strives to deliver on that ideal.”


Pay It Forward

Since graduating Hansen has maintained close ties with BYU and BYU Marriott. He credits his education with many of the skills that have served him well throughout his career, and he feels called to give back. “One of Nike’s first athletes—Steve Prefontaine—once said that to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift,” Hansen says. “I feel like I was given a gift—the privilege of attending BYU—and I want to pay that forward.”

Hansen spent several years on BYU Marriott’s marketing board, and about ten years ago, he began lecturing each semester in professor Mike Swenson’s marketing class, a course all four of Hansen’s own children have completed. With each visit, Hansen looks forward to reconnecting with the university and interacting with students.

“My goal is to help students see a real-world application of the things they are studying in class,” Hansen says. “I try to share examples of opportunities that might be of interest to them and provide mentoring about career choices that I’ve made that may be relevant as they make their own decisions.”

Two years ago, Hansen upped his dedication to BYU Marriott by joining the National Advisory Council (NAC), a board of professionals offering support and direction to the entire school.

“The opportunity to interact with the women and men who not only have been successful in their careers but also share the same love for BYU that I have has been great,” Hansen says. “Jeanne and I both feel a particular sense of gratitude for BYU Marriott. We both got our MBAs here, and we have two sons and a daughter-in-law who are also BYU grads. Currently our daughter is a senior in BYU Marriott’s supply-chain program, and our youngest son and his wife are current students. Our family bleeds blue, and it feels great to give back.”

Living the Dream

When someone asks him how he’s doing, Hansen’s typical response is that he’s “living the dream.” He knows the phrase may sound cliché, but “it pretty accurately describes how I feel every day.” He loves spending time with his family and recently became a first-time grandfather. Serving with his wife in the YSA ward has been his favorite Church calling and his current role at Nike is the highlight of his career. “I can honestly say I’ve found my dream job—I plan on being here until I retire,” he says.

Hansen feels a deep sense of pride in affiliation between BYU and Nike. When he found out that BYU coach LaVell Edwards was going to be in Portland, Hansen arranged a meeting between Edwards and Nike cofounder Phil Knight. Edwards was one of the first coaches Nike signed in the 1980s, and Hansen loved sitting in as Edwards and his wife, Patti, reminisced with Knight about Nike’s early days. Hansen remembers being especially honored to witness how highly Knight regarded the company’s relationship with BYU.

As part of the visit, Hansen also took Edwards on a tour of the Nike campus, where the outdoor hallways are lined with bronze plaques honoring notable coaches and athletes from the 1990s, the era when the campus was built. “One of those plaques was of Coach Edwards, and he didn’t know about it,” Hansen notes. “So I walked him and Patti over and took a picture of them standing next to it. That is one of the best memories of my career.”

Every time Hansen sees BYU athletes, he’s thrilled to spot a Nike swoosh across the blue and white uniforms. “BYU is one of Nike’s longest-standing partnerships,” he says, “and as a BYU alum and Nike employee, it’s a great source of pride for me that they’ve chosen to wear the swoosh.”

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Written by Sara Smith Atwood
Photography by Bradley Slade

About the Author
Sara Smith Atwood worked in magazines before becoming a freelance writer. A BYU graduate, she lives in Orem, Utah, with her husband and their two children.

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