Phil Knight (1938, Portland, Oregon) is an American businessman who founded the prestigious Nike sportswear firm.
Athletics lover and sports journalist, Phil Knight and his former coach Bill Bowerman created Nike with just 500 dollars. Numerous sports stars have taken part in its advertising campaigns, proving decisive in expanding the quality image of the Nike brand.
A successful businessman, he has also stood out for his philanthropic work. In this sense, it is worth noting his important donations to athletics and educational centers such as the Stanford Business School and the University of Oregon.
Phil Knight: Journalist and passionate about athletics
Born in Oregon in 1938, Phil Knight received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon and an MBA from the Stanford School of Business.
While studying at the University of Oregon, he practiced athletics and was coached by Bill Bowerman, with whom he would end up founding Nike.
Knight wanted to work as a journalist, but his father refused to hire him at his newspaper. Thus, Knight ended up serving for The Oregonian, the newspaper that competed with his father’s newspaper. It should be noted that Knight himself ran from home to work.
Beyond his work as a journalist and his passion for athletics, Knight began to show an interest in the process of making sneakers. Knight was looking for comfortable, quality footwear.
Phil Knight’s path to Nike
At that time, the sports shoes of the German firm Adidas were the king of the market. However, in 1962, during one of his trips to Japan, Knight signed a contract with the Japanese company Onitsuka Tiger to provide him with light and comfortable shoes.
In turn, Bill Bowerman joined Knight’s entrepreneurial project. His former coach would be key when it comes to the design of sports shoes. That was how in 1964 Blue Ribbon Sports ended up emerging.
While Bowerman handled the design aspects, Knight focused his efforts on athletic shoe sales. The business progressively prospered and both entrepreneurs opened establishments in cities such as Oregon, Eugene and Santa Monica.
But in 1971 Knight’s difficulties with his supplier Onitsuka Tiger began. In view of this, Knight ended the relationship and together with Bowerman began to design his own sports shoes for him. It was the first step on the road to a great sporting goods firm like Nike.
A great marketing strategy
A colleague from Knight’s university was key in the future of Nike. It was Jeff Johnson, who had studied at Stanford with Knight. Johnson’s marketing strategy proved crucial to the company. Furthermore, the brand name Nike is due to Johnson and referred to the Greek goddess of victory.
But it was necessary to make the brand known and make Nike a prestigious firm in the world of sports. To do this, Nike chose to incorporate elite athletes into its advertising campaigns. A clear example is the case of the well-known runner Steve Prefontaine, who generated substantial income for Nike by using his sports shoes.
Major sports stars would follow Prefontaine’s example, helping to enhance Nike’s brand image. Among these names are the famous basketball player Michael Jordan and the tennis players Andre Agassi and John McEnroe.
at the summit
Nike not only triumphed for associating its footwear with well-known athletes. In addition, they manufactured quality, comfortable products with innovative designs. Proof of this were the Nike Cortez shoes, which enjoyed a magnificent reception by the public.
Faced with such successes, Nike ended up surpassing a leading company in the sector such as Adidas. So by 1980, Nike had already risen to the top of the athletic shoe world and was publicly traded.
Nike continued its upward trajectory, diversifying and adding new products to its extensive product catalog. Sporting goods for golf, football and hockey contributed significantly to the sportswear firm’s revenue.
Already in 2004, and with Nike established as a leader in the sports footwear sector, Phil Knight left his position as CEO of the company, although he remained a shareholder.