Born in Portland Oregon on February 24, 1938, Philip H. Knight would become “the most powerful person in sports.” He is the co-founder and current Chairman of the Board for Nike, Inc.
Phil Knight attended Cleveland High school in Portland Oregon and after graduation, went on to attend the University of Oregon in Eugene, where he earned a journalism degree in 1959. It was at the University of Oregon that Knight found his love for athletics as a middle distance runner in track and field under the tutelage of Coach Bill Bowerman. He received varsity letters in 1957, 1958 and 1959 for track and had achieved a personal best mile of 4:10.
After graduating in 1959, Knight enlisted in the US Army, serving one year active and the following seven as a reservist. During his reserve duty, he attended Stanford Graduate School of Business, to obtain his Master of Business Administration. It was in a business class that Knight discovered he had a passion other than athletics, and that was as an entrepreneur. His instructor, Frank Shallenberger, had assigned him to write a business plan on something he enjoyed and knew about.
That assignment led to the inspiration by Knight to form a company selling shoes to athletes. His paper, titled, “Can Japanese Sports Shoes Do to German Sports Shoes What Japanese Cameras Did to German Cameras?” was directed at answering the question whether a shoe could be designed and manufactured for less with better quality than the current leader in athletic shoes, Adidas.
The paper he wrote inspired him so much that after graduating from Stanford with an MBA in 1962, he actually put his fictitious work into practice by flying to Japan and meeting with executives of Onitsuka Tiger Co, a manufacturer of Adidas knockoffs. He told the Tiger executives he was the head of Blue Ribbon Sports (a fictitious company he created to convince Tiger he was a serious buyer), and that he wanted to distribute their shoes in the United States. Tiger officials agreed to send him samples after Knight convinced them he would place a large order once he was able to show the samples to his partners (also fictitious).
Upon returning to the United States, Knight borrowed $500 from his father to pay for the samples and start up his business. Shortly thereafter he received the samples and immediately sent a few pairs to his former coach Bill Bowerman in hopes that coach Bowerman would buy them and help promote the shoes to his athletes. Bowerman, instead offered to put up $500 and join Knight as a partner in this new venture.
The two new partners officially formed Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964, purchased 200 pairs of shoes from Tiger, and began selling to athletes at Track meets throughout the Oregon and Washington region. Knight’s storefront was his early 1960s Plymouth Valiant. Knight had to maintain his job as an accountant, while selling shoes, however by 1969, he was able to leave his job and begin working full-time for Blue Ribbon Sports.
In 1971, with sales exceeding $3 million, Knight decided to break with Tiger and start designing their own line of shoes named Nike (suggested by a friend, Jeff Johnson, after the Greek winged goddess of victory). Knight commissioned Portland Sate art student Carolyn Davis to create the ‘swoosh’ logo as Bowerman devised the waffle sole for better traction. The new Nike shoe debuted in 1972. Utilizing sports figures to promote his shoes, Knight embarked on an advertising campaign that included the likes of John McEnroe, and later Micheal Jordan.
Sales flourished tremendously and in December, 1981 the company name officially became Nike, Inc. By 1986 Nike sales hit a tremendous $1 billion, becoming the number one selling shoe in the world.
In 2004, Philip Knight stepped down as CEO, and remains as chairman of the board. Utilizing creativity and inspired by his own driving desire to build a better shoe, Philip Knight created from a fictitious ‘paper’ company, a billion dollar Industry and as of 2008 is the 30th richest man in the world with assets of nearly $10 Billion.
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