From her earliest years, Ellen Schmidt-Devlin has been a go-getter with an innate desire to prove a girl can do anything a boy can. She grew up in Albany, Oregon, where her family owned a hardware store. Early on, Schmidt-Devlin made up her mind to memorize the location of each of the store’s thousands of items and learn the purpose of each of them. With this accomplishment under her belt, the young Schmidt-Devlin soon excelled in providing in-store help to the store’s grown-up customers.
Because her parents treated all 10 of their children the same—whether they were boys or girls—Schmidt-Devlin grew up thinking she could use hard work and determination to accomplish anything she wanted. As a fifth-generation Oregonian on her mother’s side and fourth-generation on her father’s side, Schmidt-Devlin has always drawn strength from her pioneer heritage.
During high school, Schmidt-Devlin was a track star. Thanks to her many wins, her picture appeared frequently in the Albany newspaper.
Recruited to join the UO women’s track team, Schmidt-Devlin soon made her mark as an advocate for women. At her first cross-country meet, legendary track coach and Nike cofounder Bill Bowerman approached her and said, “Would you get the girls on your team to test the new Nike track shoes?” Schmidt-Devlin stood tall and bravely said, “Nice to meet you Mr. Bowerman, but we are not girls--we are women.”
Even as a young athlete, Schmidt-Devlin focused on the big picture, tackling issues that extended beyond her own individual performance. When she saw the success Oregon State University was having with their women’s track team, she launched into hardcore recruiting to bring top runners to join the UO team.
In early 1980, Schmidt-Devlin joined Nike, where she was personally mentored by Bowerman. During her 27-year career at the company, Schmidt-Devlin was the first woman named to many leadership roles. She ran divisions in Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Korea. and the United States. By breaking these barriers, she empowered many other women to follow in her path.
Following her stellar career at Nike, Schmidt-Devlin enrolled in the Oregon Executive MBA.
After she graduated, Schmidt-Devlin teamed with Emeritus Professor Roger Best to develop UO Sports Product Management, which includes education and research along with a first-of-its-kind master’s degree program. Located in Portland, Oregon, the University of Oregon program educates current and future leaders for the sports and outdoor industry.
In addition to her fulltime role as executive director and cofounder of UO Sports Product Management, Schmidt-Devlin is currently a doctoral student at Case Western University and will receive her PhD in May 2020. Her thesis examines the issue of authenticity in global and local brands.
Bringing athletes the most innovative products has been the key theme of Schmidt-Devlin’s extraordinary career. The continued success of the UO Sports Product Management program means that her work will continue to grow on a global scale as students use the industry-specific tools they’ve developed during their time in the world-class program.
Schmidt-Devlin’s relentless pursuit of excellence and visionary innovation make her a role model for professional women everywhere.
Hear Schmidt-Devlin's story in her own words at the Oregon Executive MBA Alumni Speaker Series event on Tuesday, May 22, 2018.
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