Philip H. Knight, better known as Phil Knight, is an American billionaire and businessman best known as the cofounder, former CEO, and chairman emeritus of Nike, Inc. Knight cofounded Nike in 1964 with his former college track coach, Bill Bowerman, and oversaw the company's rise to the number one athletic apparel and shoeware brand in the world over his more than three-decade tenure as CEO and chairman.
Knight was born February 24, 1938, in Portland, Oregon. His father was a lawyer-turned-newspaper publisher, for Oregon Journal. From 1955 to 1959, Knight attended the University of Oregon, where he ran middle distance for the school's track team and graduated with a degree in journalism. Knight enlisted in the army for a year after graduating, then went back to school, enrolling at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. At Stanford, Knight conceived the idea for Nike in a paper outlining a business plan to sell athletic shoes produced in Japan, where labor costs were cheaper.
Two years after graduating from Stanford with his MBA, Knight reunited with his former University of Oregon track coach, Bill Bowerman, in 1964. Together the two created Blue Ribbon Sports, an athletic footwear distributor that would go on to be Nike. Knight, who was working as an accountant at the time, initially sold running shoes out of the trunk of his green Plymouth Valiant at weekend track meets. Blue Ribbon Sports distributed Onitsuka Tiger running shoes, a brand Knight had discovered while traveling abroad in Japan. Adorning the shoes with his Blue Ribbon Sports logo, Knight was able to steadily build the brand, selling $1 million of shoes by 1969.
In 1972, Onitsuka sent a letter to Knight announcing the company would be terminating its distribution deal with Blue Ribbon Sports. Onitsuka offered to purchase 51 percent of Blue Ribbon Sports, a gesture which Knight refused. After the partnership with Onitsuka was dissolved, Knight decided to rebrand and rename Blue Ribbon Sports. One of Knight's employees suggested the name Nike, named after the Greek spirit of victory from mythology. The company also adopted a new logo, a "swoosh" design, which they commissioned for $35. Knight debuted the new name and logo in 1972 and saw continued growth and success. Eight years later, in 1980, Nike went public and passed rival Adidas to become the industry leader in athletic footwear.
Although the company saw continued success throughout the 70s and early 80s, with the company raking in $867 million in revenue in 1983, Nike hit a bit of trouble by February 1984, reporting its first-ever quarterly loss. It was at this time that Nike offered a then-unheard-of shoe deal to the much-hyped NBA rookie Michael Jordan: $500,000 a year for five years. Additionally, Knight and Nike also offered Jordan stock options, as well as the opportunity to design his own shoes. Having no other offers come even close to that deal, Jordan signed with Nike. The company released the first Air Jordan sneakers—a pair of red, black, and white trainers—in 1985. Originally predicting they would sell 100,000 pairs in their first year, Air Jordans were a massive success, selling more than 450,000 pairs and catapulting both Jordan's and Nike's popularity. The partnership between Knight and Jordan would prove to be highly lucrative for both men, with Nike's stock jumping 9,305 percent from 1984 to 2003 and Jordan making over $1.3 billion from the brand.
Knight continued serving as Nike's CEO throughout the 90s and early 2000s, guiding the company through a time of controversy and criticism regarding its labor practices. Nike's longtime practice of outsourcing its labor to Asia, where the company relied on low wages and sometimes underage workers to manufacture the shoes at a low cost. In 1998, Knight announced the company would be ending its child labor practices, raising its minimum age in overseas factories to eighteen. Critics applauded the move, although many pointed out that Knight had not made any mention of raising minimum wage in said facilities, where workers were paid around one or two dollars a day.
Knight retired as Nike's CEO in 2004 and was succeeded by William Perez. Knight would fire Perez two years later and instead give the position to Mark Parker, who had joined Nike in 1979 as a shoe designer. Knight continued to serve as Nike's chairman until 2016, when he officially retired and was given the title of chairman emeritus. Parker succeeded Knight as Nike's acting chairman.
In addition to overseeing Nike, Knight has pursued other ventures outside of the world of athletic apparel. In 2002, Knight acquired Portland, Oregon-based Vinton Shop, an animation studio specializing in stop-motion. The studio was renamed Laika in 2005. Laika is led by Knight's son Travis, an animator who serves as the studio's chief executive. The studio has produced several successful animated films, including Coraline and ParaNorman.
In 2016, Knight released Shoe Dog, a memoir detailing the early days of Nike and its subsequent evolution into the behemoth it is today. Published by Scribner, the book was a critical and commercial success, reaching number one on the New York Times Bestsellers List.