Nico Fearn ’12 and Garren Strong ’07 enrolled at Lundquist College dreaming of going pro—Fearn in the NBA, and Strong with the NFL. And it happened, just not exactly how either one of the former student athletes imagined.
Rather than earning paychecks on the court or in the field after graduating—Fearn playing guard for the Oregon basketball team and Strong playing wide receiver in football—the pair found success in product marketing at Nike—a fortuitous turn of events benefitting the friends to this very day.
Today, Fearn works at Nike in what the company calls “Global NBHD.” Or as he puts it, “connecting and coordinating with the brand’s most important retail partners and spheres of influence.”
Prior to his role in Global NBHD, Fearn worked across product franchises like the Nike Air Force 1 as well as Nike Collaborations.
Punctuating his 11-year career with the global sports-apparel brand product marketing the Air Jordan 1—a dream come true for Strong who grew up idolizing early iterations of the shoe—Strong is now focused on his own startup, CRCL OF WNNRS, an apparel company, he said, “that will one day grow to be an overall lifestyle brand.”
Both men describe leaving the Lundquist College uncertain they’d had the same experiential opportunities other students enjoyed. Because as student athletes, they committed themselves to coursework, sports, and teammates. Through mentorship, though, the pair learned quickly this couldn’t be further from the truth, and that’s a message they’d like to share with others.
Mentorship provided by Nike and the university, Strong said, “brought confidence, providing the foundation for the path I’m on today. Because until someone shows you how it’s possible, you may never know.”
And when he first went to work at Nike, Fearn admitted, “I had days of doubt.” But through mentorship, he realized that in a sense, “I’ve been working the industry for several years!” he said.
According to Fearn and Strong, a willingness to try new things while in school helped them secure successful positions after graduating with degrees in business and sports business concentrations.
“I didn’t think I was going to do product management. I didn’t even know what that was,” Fearn said, reflecting back.
In addition to trying new things, both UO alumni urge student athletes to network as much as possible while they have the chance.
“On the University of Oregon campus, you don’t really know who you’re bumping into,” Fearn said. “Make sure you introduce yourself. You never know who ends up helping you. Every connection is important.”
And both Strong and Fearn continue to build on their UO connections and stay involved, particularly with the UO Sports Product Management program in Portland.
In 2016, in fact, Fearn helped publicize the new master of science in sports product management degree before any students were even enrolled. And since then, he has advised students, attended several events hosted by the program, and participated in several panel discussions, according to Ellen Schmidt-Devlin, executive director of Portland programs for the Lundquist College of Business and cofounder of the Sport Product Management program.
“Over the past five years he’s been generous with his time,” she said.
The two friends even dream of one day teaching a class together for the program.
“We’d love to share our experience building the industry’s biggest product franchises with the next generation,” Fearn said.
Both Fearn and Strong also recently joined the Lundquist College of Business’s new 40 Under 40 advisory board, a group of young alumni providing insight, guidance, and input to the dean and the college on growth opportunities and strategies.
More than anything, though, Strong emphasized that students enrolled at Lundquist interested in pro sports—no matter what the job happens to look like—should stay patient and persistent.
“Don't give up if it's something you really want,” Strong said. “It’s very possible: I went pro at Nike.”
—William Kennedy, Lundquist College Communications