Golden Eagles help company, industry soar
Zuniga looks to alma mater to help grow Grifols Biologicals Inc.
Grifols Biologicals Inc. CEO and President Willie Zuniga is captured with three Cal State L.A. alumnas and employees, (left to right) Deana Welker, Yniska Gaines and Hana Kim, outside the construction site of a new expanded facility. Zuniga hopes to recruit other Cal State L.A. students and graduates to help fill as many as 300 new positions.
Sitting at the helm of a multimillion dollar company – across the street from his alma mater and blocks from his childhood home in East Los Angeles – Willie Zuniga ’86 has never forgotten where he came from.
Over the last 30 years, Zuniga, the president and chief executive officer of Grifols Biologicials Inc., has cultivated a successful career in the plasma and pharmaceutical production industry.
He has also earned a degree from Cal State L.A. while working and created a pipeline for CSULA students and alumni to follow in his footsteps. “It’s amazing how things work out,” a soft-spoken, smiling Zuniga said.
Zuniga’s 1979 start at Grifols – then Alpha Therapeutic Corporation – was a matter of chance. The new father was in need of a job when a relative working there encouraged him to apply. Hired as an entry level process technician, he worked his way through the company over two decades, eventually advancing up the corporate ladder. He thrived, he says, because he enjoyed the work and felt motivated to do the best job he could.
“In my own little way, I was doing what I always wanted: I was saving lives,” he said. “And I had the potential to help and do more.”
CSULA President James M. Rosser speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony for a $135 million expansion of Grifols Biolgoicals Inc., a plasma production company near the University.
Today, Zuniga says one of his main objectives is to help recruit talented employees to secure that Grifols’ future is as bright as its past. “I took it as a personal challenge to help my managers,” he said, noting that the company didn’t have a solid applicant pool when it started to grow in 2006.
“I knew we had – have – amazing people across the street (at Cal State L.A.),” he said. “And I thought if it worked for me, why wouldn’t (working at Grifols) work for others?”
Over the last three years, in fact, he has hired more than 20 students – all of whom work full-time while attending classes, like he did – and CSULA graduates. He has also met with the Career Development Center staff, College deans and faculty, and visited about 30 classrooms to speak with students directly about opportunities. “I call them my kids — my Cal State L.A. kids.”
Zuniga looks out for his “kids” too, meeting with them regularly to see how they are doing on the job and how school is going for those still working toward their degrees. He aspires to grow his relationship with the University further, especially with the exciting, somewhat daunting task of filling 200 to 300 new positions that will be created with a $135 million expansion investment by parent company, Grifols Inc.
“I truly feel that we are obligated to help the younger generation,” he adds. “It’s so evident. I encourage everyone to not forget where they started.”
Hear from our graduates:
“The most important thing that stood out for me was that Grifols was willing to schedule hours that allowed me to work and support myself, and at the same time, gave me study time. This was reassuring to me as I wouldn’t have to choose between the two.” -- Hana Kim ’08
“The relationship between Grifols and CSULA has benefited me by giving me the opportunity to interview for a position when I had no experience. When looking for a job straight out of college it’s almost impossible to get your foot in the door. Companies are rarely interested in a candidate with no experience. Grifols gave me the opportunity to interview for open positions.” -- Deana Welker, ’07
“Cal State L.A. assisted me by giving me the desire to obtain knowledge, which greatly helped me through the transition to entering the workforce.” -- Yniska Gaines, ’08