“There is an immutable conflict at work in life and in business, a constant battle between peace and chaos. Neither can be mastered, but both can be influenced. How you go about that is the key to success.”
Philip Hampson “Phil” Knight (born February 24, 1938) is an American business magnate. A native of Oregon, he is the co-founder of Nike, Inc., and previously served as the chairman and chief executive officer of Nike. In 2014, Forbes named Knight the 43rd richest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of US$22.3 billion. He is also the owner of the stop motion film production company Laika.
A graduate of the University of Oregon and Stanford Graduate School of Business (Stanford GSB), he has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to both schools; Knight gave the largest donation in history at the time to Stanford’s business school in 2006. A native Oregonian, he ran track under coach Bill Bowerman at the University of Oregon, with whom he would co-found Nike.
Knight was born in Portland, Oregon, the son of lawyer turned newspaper publisher William W. Knight, and his wife Lota (Hatfield) Knight. Knight grew up in the Portland neighborhood of Eastmoreland, and attendedCleveland High School. According to one source, “When his father refused to give him a summer job at his newspaper [the Oregon Journal], believing that his son should find work on his own, Phil went to the rivalOregonian, where he worked the night shift tabulating sports scores every morning and running home the full seven miles.”
Knight continued his education at the University of Oregon (UO) in Eugene, where he is a graduate brother of Phi Gamma Delta (“FIJI”) fraternity, was a sports reporter for the Oregon Daily Emerald and earned a journalism degree in 1959.
As a middle-distance runner at UO, his personal best was a 4-minute, 10-second mile, and he won varsity letters for his track performances in 1957, 1958 and 1959. In 1977, together with Bowerman and Geoff Hollister, Knight founded an American running team called Athletics West.
Before the Blue Ribbon Sports business that would later become Nike flourished, Knight was a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), firstly with Price Waterhouse, and then Coopers & Lybrand. Knight then became an assistant professor of business administration atPortland State University (PSU).
Immediately after graduating from the University of Oregon, Knight enlisted in the Army and served one year on active duty and seven years in the Army Reserve. After the year of active duty, he enrolled at Stanford Graduate School of Business. In Frank Shallenberger’s Small Business class, Knight developed a love affair with something besides sports — he discovered he was an entrepreneur. Knight recalls in a Stanford Magazine article: “That class was an ‘aha!’ moment … Shallenberger defined the type of person who was an entrepreneur–and I realized he was talking to me. I remember after saying to myself: ‘This is really what I would like to do.’ ” In this class, Knight needed to create a business plan. His paper, “Can Japanese Sports Shoes Do to German Sports Shoes What Japanese Cameras Did to German Cameras?,” essentially was the premise to his foray into selling running shoes. He graduated with a master’s degree in business administration from the school in 1962.
Knight set out on a trip around the world after graduation, during which he made a stop in Kobe, Japan, in November 1962. It was there he discovered the Tiger-brand running shoes, manufactured in Kobe by the Onitsuka Co. So impressed was he with the quality and low cost, Knight made a cold call on Mr. Onitsuka, who agreed to meet with him. By the end of the meeting, Knight had secured Tiger distribution rights for the western United States.
The first Tiger samples would take more than a year to be shipped to Knight, during which time he found a job as an accountant in Portland. When Knight finally received the shoe samples, he mailed two pairs to Bowerman at UO, hoping to gain both a sale and an influential endorsement. To Knight’s surprise, Bowerman not only ordered the Tiger shoes, but also offered to become a partner with Knight and provide product design ideas. The two men agreed to a partnership by handshake on January 25, 1964, the birth date of Blue Ribbon Sports, the company name that would later be transformed into Nike.
Knight’s first sales were made out of a now legendary green Plymouth Valiant automobile at track meets across the Pacific Northwest. By 1969, these early sales allowed Knight to leave his accountant job and work full-time for Blue Ribbon Sports.
Jeff Johnson, a friend of Knight, suggested calling the firm “Nike,” named after the Greek winged goddess of victory. Nike’s logo, now considered one of the most powerful logos in the world, more for its ubiquity than its aesthetic merits, was commissioned for a mere US$35 from Carolyn Davidson in 1971. According to Nike’s website, Knight said at the time: “I don’t love it, but it will grow on me.” In September 1983, Davidson was given an undisclosed amount of Nike stock for her contribution to the company’s brand. On theOprah television program in April 2011, Knight claimed he gave Davidson “A few hundred shares” when the company went public.