After one of the most enriching experiences of his career, George Gonzalez needed to go home. Before becoming Oportun’s director of communications, Gonzalez spent four and a half years as the deputy press secretary for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and two cabinet secretaries. Being appointed as an Obama Administration official was the capstone to a life engaged in local and national politics, and an experience that provided Gonzalez with mentorship from ambassadors, politicians, and those helping shape the life of everyday Americans.
But with the winds of political change whipping through DC in 2016, Gonzalez knew he could remain and become embittered. Or he could pause to figure out what his next chapter might look like. He chose the latter, and he knew exactly where he needed to go.
“I just packed my stuff and returned to Mexico City,” the director remembers. Gonzalez was raised truly bicultural, growing up in Mexico City while spending extensive time with his grandparents in Los Angeles before his family moved there full-time.
Gonzalez returned to his first home to sort things out, and it was exactly what the doctor ordered. “I spent a lot of time in the neighborhood that I grew up in,” he says. “I spent time with family and friends and people that I grew up with, filling my soul with what it needed, figuring out what my next move was going to be. That’s when Oportun came along.”
Finding the right role seemed like finding a needle in a haystack for Gonzalez. He had spent his career working for mission-driven organizations and campaigns, all focused on making the world a better place.
George Gonzalez on what it means to be bicultural:
As a child, Gonzalez was glued to the news. He readily rattles off the events that shaped his world: the Mexico City earthquake, the Challenger explosion, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the release of Nelson Mandela. He was a bona fide news junkie and had built a life for himself in the circles of those making the news. What could follow that?
“Oportun came across my radar when they had just been named a top company that was reinventing the world by Time,” Gonzalez recalls. “This was a mission-driven organization that was being recognized for their work at a significant level. They were at this crossroads of moving from a start-up environment to this larger entity that was doing exciting things.”
The company’s mission of providing inclusive and affordable financial services that help customers build credit and a more secure financial future is one Gonzalez connected with immediately.
As a modestly paid Washington staffer in one of the country’s most expensive cities, Gonzalez once needed a small loan to get through a rough period. Payday loans were available, and despite paying off the sum immediately (a miracle considering the interest on such loans), it did absolutely nothing to help Gonzalez build credit or improve his financial health.
Gonzalez knows the experience pales in comparison to the financial challenges others may face, but he still knows the new world Oportun is trying to create for customers firsthand.
The director speaks glowingly of his “small but mighty” in-house team at Oportun. “This team does everything it possibly can to make sure things get done right and on time,” the director says. “The public affairs and impact team is just this fantastic group of well-rounded professionals whose previous experience has informed them on how to execute at a high level. We hold ourselves accountable, and we’re happy to do that for each other.”
That team is responsible for supporting a company of three thousand. And it now includes the incorporation of recent acquisition Digit, a neobanking company whose platform provides automated savings, investing, and banking tools that will extend the life cycle of Oportun’s ability to serve its customers beyond more than just a loan.
Gonzalez says the company is at another transformational point. “This is a big deal, because it’s the integration of two companies that are 100 percent mission-focused,” the director says. “We are dealing with individuals that want to make an impact, so you have this incredible union of ideas, of minds, and feelings. No matter what challenges pop up, you can always find common ground in our shared mission.”
He repeatedly calls out the mentors who have helped him get to this point, people who understood the importance of mentorship and in helping those coming up the ranks discover their passions. Gonzalez mentions people like Mauro Morales, staff director at the US Commission on Civil Rights; Cresencio Arcos, former US ambassador to Honduras; and Joseph Avila, senior director of energy policy and strategy for Southern California Gas Company.
“In all of these individuals and in my own mentorship, sincerity and care are what speaks to me the most,” Gonzalez explains. “These people have helped me succeed, allowed me to fail, and have played such a big part in becoming the kind of person I want to be.”
Gonzalez is hoping to provide the same mentorship with newly established Oportun employee resource groups and to others seeking guidance at Oportun. And maybe the most important mentorship is with his young nephew, with whom Gonzalez spends as many weekends as he can. It’s just another example of figuring out how to fill your soul with the things that are most important to you.
It took Gonzalez time to figure out what was next, but he continues to change the lives of those around him for the better, any way he can.