Bill Hunt

Wilson “Bill” Hunt started CHAMPRO in 1986 with the goal of producing team sports gear that equaled or exceeded the performance of the established brands, but at a lower cost to the consumer. He chose not to pay for professional endorsements, advertising or promotional product, but instead to pass on reduced overhead with lower prices to athletes. CHAMPRO’s growth from a limited line of baseball equipment and expansion over the years to eventually offer a complete line of team sports equipment and uniforms that can outfit players from head to toe led to Hunt’s induction in the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame Class of 2022.  

Hunt has always enjoyed hard work and the challenges it provided. His work career began at age 10 when he sold vegetable and flower seeds door to door. He worked before and after school and during summers selling newspapers on a street corner, pulling a snow cone wagon, 

flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s, mopping floors in a hospital, and as a laborer in a vinegar factory and a steel products factory. He sometimes chose the night shift so he could practice basketball and play golf during the day.

Hunt graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota with a degree in economics. After a two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia, he went to work at Berkley and Company in Spirit Lake, Iowa, as their International Buyer. Several years later he accepted a position at Wilson Sporting Goods where he became Director of the Baseball/Softball Division.

In 1986 he stepped out and started CHAMPRO. The drive Hunt has exhibited since childhood enabled CHAMPRO to grow from a family operated company to a national brand headquartered in the Chicago suburb of Wheeling, Illinois, and employing more than 600 employees based in three countries. In the early years Hunt’s family pitched in to do whatever was necessary. His wife Terese was the customer service department, picked and packed orders, and helped at trade shows. Son Ryan, who is now President of CHAMPRO, started picking and packing orders at age 10. Sons Evan and Nolan followed in his footsteps but eventually pursued careers outside the sporting goods industry. 

Hunt is always looking for new ways to deliver the best value by developing new products, rethinking speed and quality of service, searching for new sourcing opportunities, and keeping overhead low. He has never hesitated to dig in at any level of the company to make sure things get done. It has never been surprising to find him in the warehouse picking orders to make sure CHAMPRO didn’t fall behind on its same-day shipping commitment.

After starting as an equipment company, CHAMPRO entered the team apparel market in the 1990s. The apparel business grew during the next 15 years, at which point he broadened the product line to include custom uniforms. Since entering the custom uniform market, CHAMPRO has developed a proprietary manufacturing infrastructure with the fastest delivery times in the industry. Custom uniforms now make up one-third of the company's total revenue.

CHAMPRO has also made an international impact with economic development and community involvement. In 1999, through a connection from Hunt’s time as a Peace Corps volunteer, he was invited to join a U.S. trade delegation to Ethiopia. This trip led to development of a joint venture apparel factory in Ethiopia and shortly thereafter, founding of the CHAMPRO School. The CHAMPRO School now educates more than 500 students in a rural village of Ethiopia, where it provides the only opportunity for first- through eighth-grade education. After establishing the joint venture factory, CHAMPRO made the first African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) eligible shipment from Ethiopia to the U.S. in 2000.

In 2002, the CHAMPRO joint venture factory was visited by U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O’Neill, and Bono, of the iconic music group U2, who recognized the factory as a model for development under the AGOA. More than 20 years later, CHAMPRO continues to manufacture team uniforms through four partnerships in Ethiopia.

Hunt served for 10 years as Chairman of the Ethio-American Trade and Investment Council. During his tenure, he worked with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the Ministry of Trade and Industry to help reduce trade barriers and simplify Ethiopia’s regulatory environment for investors.

Through founding of the CHAMPRO School, involvement with Eden Reforestation Projects, and by supporting Chicago area non-profits that provide team sports opportunities for youth, Hunt found a path to blend business with his love for team sports and his interest in improving opportunities for others.