Phil Knight

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Phil Knight
Born Philip Hampson Knight
(1938-02-24) February 24, 1938 (age 76)
Portland, Oregon, U.S.
Residence Hillsboro, Oregon
Alma mater University of Oregon
Stanford University
Occupation Co-founder and chairman of Nike, Inc.
Net worth Increase US$14.4 billion (2012)[1]
Spouse(s) Penelope "Penny" Parks
Children Matthew Knight
Travis Knight
Christina Knight
Alexis Knight
Parents William W. Knight
Lota Hatfield Knight
Nike Corporation

Philip Hampson "Phil" Knight (born February 24, 1938) is an American business magnate and philanthropist. A native of Oregon, he is the co-founder and chairman of Nike, Inc., and previously served as the chief executive officer of Nike. In 2013, Forbes named Knight the 56th richest person in the world and the 24th richest in America, with an estimated net worth of US$18.4 billion.[2]

A graduate of the University of Oregon and Stanford Graduate School of Business, 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.

Early years[edit]

Phil Knight is the son of lawyer turned newspaper publisher, William W. Knight, and his wife Lota (Hatfield) Knight.[3][4] Growing up in the Portland neighborhood of Eastmoreland, he attended Cleveland High School in Portland. 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 rival Oregonian, where he worked the night shift tabulating sports scores every morning and running home the full seven miles."[5]

Knight continued his education at the University of Oregon in Eugene, where he is a graduate brother of Phi Gamma Delta ("FIJI") fraternity (but has since disassociated himself), was a sports reporter for the Oregon Daily Emerald,[6] and earned a journalism degree in 1959.[3] As a middle-distance runner at the school, his personal best was 4:10 mile,[7] winning varsity letters for track in 1957, 1958, and 1959.

In 1977, together with Bill Bowerman and Geoff Hollister, Knight founded an American running team called Athletics West.

Budding entrepreneur[edit]

Immediately after graduating from Oregon, Knight enlisted in the Army and served one year on active duty and seven years in the Army Reserve.[3] After the year of active duty, he enrolled at Stanford Graduate School of Business.[3] 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:[3] "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.[3]

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 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.[citation needed]

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 Bill Bowerman at the University of Oregon hoping to gain 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 would provide some design ideas for better running shoes. The two men shook hands on a partnership on January 25, 1964, the birth date of Blue Ribbon Sports, forerunner to Nike.[8]

Early career and family[edit]

Before Blue Ribbon Sports, later Nike, took off, Knight was first a Certified Public Accountant with Price Waterhouse, and then Coopers & Lybrand; and an assistant professor of business administration at Portland State University.[9] While at Portland State, he met his future wife, Penelope "Penny" Parks; they were married on September 13, 1968.[10]

Nike's origin[edit]

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 $35 from Carolyn Davidson in 1971.[11] According to Nike's Web site, Knight stated: "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 the Oprah TV program in April 2011, Knight claimed he gave her "A few hundred shares" when the company went public.


In 2000, Knight was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame for his Special Contribution to Sports in Oregon.[12] He is believed to have contributed approximately $230 million to the University of Oregon, the majority of which was for athletics.[13] On August 18, 2007, Knight announced that he and his wife, Penny, would be donating an additional $100 million to the University of Oregon Athletics Legacy Fund.[14]

His significant contributions have granted him influence and access atypical of an athletic booster. In addition to having the best seats in the stadium for all University of Oregon athletic events, he has his own locker in the football team's locker room. An athletic building is named for him, the library for his mother, the law school for his father, and the basketball teams' home, Matthew Knight Arena, is named for his late son, who died in a scuba diving accident.[citation needed]

However, Knight's contributions to the Athletic Department at the University of Oregon have also led to controversy.[15]

Public outcry surrounding Nike's labor practices precipitated protests in 2000, led by a group of students calling themselves the Human Rights Alliance. Protests included a ten-day tent-city occupation on the lawns in front of Johnson Hall, the main administration building, demanding that the university join the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) which was founded by United Students Against Sweatshops.[16]

University President Dave Frohnmayer signed a one-year contract with the WRC. Knight's reaction was to withdraw a previous US$30 million commitment toward the Autzen Stadium expansion project and to offer no further donations to the university.[17][18] Nike had endorsed the industry-supported Fair Labor Association, instead.[19] In a public statement, Knight criticized the WRC for having unrealistic provisions and called it misguided, while praising the FLA for being "balanced" in its approach.[20] The students disagreed, saying the FLA has conflicting interests, but President Frohnmayer sided with Knight's assertion that the WRC was providing unbalanced representation.[21][22]

In October 2000, citing a legal opinion from the university's counsel, President Frohnmayer released a statement saying that the university could not pay its membership dues to the WRC since the WRC was neither an incorporated entity nor had tax-exempt status, and to do so would be a violation of state law. The Oregon University System on February 16, 2001, enacted a mandate that all institutions within the system choose business partners from a politically neutral standpoint, barring all universities in Oregon from membership in the WRC and FLA.[23] Following the dissolved relationship between the university and the WRC, Phil Knight reinstated the donation and increased the amount to over $50 million.[24]

Also controversial was Knight's successful lobbying to have his friend and a former insurance salesman, Pat Kilkenny, named as Athletic Director at the university.[25] Kilkenny, another wealthy athletic booster, had neither a college degree nor any prior experience in athletics administration. Kilkenny attended but did not graduate from the university, leaving the school several credit hours short of completion. He had been the chairman and chief executive officer of the San Diego-based Arrowhead General Insurance Agency and grew his business into a nationwide organization with written premiums of nearly US$1 billion when he sold the company in 2006.[26] ESPN's Outside the Lines spotlighted Knight and his donation-backed influence on the university's athletics in an April 6, 2008, episode.

In 2006, Phil Knight donated $105 million to the Stanford Graduate School of Business.[27] He also provided monetary support to his high school alma mater, Cleveland High School, for its new track, football field, and gymnasium.

In October 2008, Phil and Penny Knight pledged $100 million to the OHSU Cancer Institute, the largest gift in the history of Oregon Health & Science University, renamed Oregon Health Sciences University in 1981. In recognition, the university renamed the organization the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.[28]

Later years[edit]

When Knight resigned as the company's CEO November 18, 2004, and retained the position of chairman of the board,[29][30] he was replaced by William Perez, former CEO of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. Perez was in turn replaced by Mark Parker in 2006.[31]

In 2002, Knight purchased Will Vinton (Animation) Studios, where son Travis worked as an animator, and changed the name to LAIKA. Travis was named to the Laika board of directors later that year and became CEO of LAIKA in March 2009, replacing Nike former-employee Dale Wahl.[32] Laika released its first feature film Coraline (in stop motion) in February 2009.

In 2009-2010, Knight was the largest single contributor to the campaign to defeat Oregon Ballot Measures 66 and 67, which, once passed, increased income tax on some corporations and on high-income individuals.[33]

As of February 13, 2012, the Knight Foundation, of which Phil and Penny Knight both are directors, held 841,145 shares of Nike Class B Common Stock.[34]

On February 24, 2012, Knight was announced as a 2012 inductee of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor. The Hall recognized him as the driving force behind Nike's huge financial support for the sport and its players. Knight was formally inducted on September 7.[35]

On May 18, 2012, Knight contributed $65,000 to a higher education PAC formed by Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle.[36][37] According to Boyle, the PAC will help facilitate an increase in autonomy at the schools in the Oregon University System.[38]

On September 27, 2013, Knight surprised the audience at the biennial gala at OHSU's Knight Cancer Institute when he announced his intention to donate $500 million for research if OHSU could match it in the next two years.[39]


  1. ^ Forbes profile page on Phil Knight Accessed 2010.
  2. ^ Forbes |url= missing title (help). 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Krentzman, Jackie (1997). "The Force Behind the Nike Empire". Stanford Magazine. Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  4. ^ "Phil Knight". Accessed May 13, 2012.
  5. ^ Susan Hauser. 1992. "Must Be the Shoes," People, May 4, pp.139-140. Accessed: May 13, 2012.
  6. ^ "25 Things about the Oregon Daily Emerald", March 29, 2011. Accessed May 13, 2012.
  7. ^ "Notable Oregonians: Phil Knight — Innovator, Business Leader". Oregon Blue Book. Retrieved 2008-06-01. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Anne M. Peterson, "Nike's Phil Knight resigns as CEO," Seattle Times, November 19, 2004. Accessed May 13, 2012.
  10. ^ "Phil Knight: How He Empowers Others", The Woman's Conference. Accessed: May 13, 2012.
  11. ^ "Nike gives board seniors the boot". BBC. 2004-08-02. Retrieved 2009-06-28. 
  12. ^ "Philip H. Knight - Special Contribution". Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. Retrieved June 28, 2011. 
  13. ^ Bachman, Rachel; Hunsberger, Brent (May 4, 2008). "Phil Knight's influence transforms University of Oregon athletics". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2008-06-01. 
  14. ^ Bellamy, Ron (August 20, 2007). "Knights to give major gift to UO". Eugene Register Guard. Retrieved 2008-06-01. [dead link]
  15. ^ Fish, Mike (January 13, 2006). "Just do it!". Retrieved 2008-06-01. 
  16. ^ Ripke, Simone (2000-04-05). "We're not going to leave". Oregon Daily Emerald. Retrieved March 24, 2009. 
  17. ^ Lang, Jeremy (2001-04-04). "Old issues, new strategies". Oregon Daily Emerald. Retrieved March 24, 2009. 
  18. ^ Romano, Ben (2000-04-24). "Knight pulls all money". Oregon Daily Emerald. Retrieved March 24, 2009. 
  19. ^ Romano, Ben (2000-04-25). "Nike backs worker rights through FLA, but not WRC". Oregon Daily Emerald. Retrieved March 24, 2009. 
  20. ^ "Statement from Nike founder and CEO Philip H. Knight regarding the University of Oregon". Oregon Daily Emerald. 2000-04-24. Retrieved March 24, 2009. 
  21. ^ Romano, Ben (2000-09-25). "Great debate: WRC vs. FLA". Oregon Daily Emerald. Retrieved March 24, 2009. 
  22. ^ Friedman, Thomas (2000-06-20). "Foreign Affairs; Knight Is Right". The New York Times. Retrieved March 24, 2009. 
  23. ^ Adams, Andrew (2001-03-05). "OUS policy won't stop labor debate". Oregon Daily Emerald. Retrieved March 24, 2009. 
  24. ^ Peterson, Anne (2004-11-19). "Nike's Phil Knight resigns as CEO". The Seattle Times. Retrieved March 24, 2009. 
  25. ^ "OTL: Phil Knight and Oregon" (Flash video). Outside the Lines. ESPN. 2 April 2008. Retrieved 2009-11-12. 
  26. ^ "Oregon Names Kilkenny Athletic Director". 14 February 2007. Retrieved 2008-06-01. 
  27. ^ Tom, Christian L. (September 19, 2006). "Nike Founder Donates $105 million to GSB". The Stanford Daily. Retrieved 2008-06-01. [dead link]
  28. ^ "Knights to give $100 million to OHSU Cancer Institute". Oregon Health & Science University. October 29, 2008. Retrieved 2009-11-12. [dead link]
  29. ^ Peterson, Anne M. (November 19, 2004). "Nike's Phil Knight resigns as CEO". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2008-06-01. 
  30. ^ Dash, Eric (November 19, 2004). "Founder of Nike to Hand Off Job to a New Chief". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-01. 
  31. ^ Barbaro, Michael; Dash, Eric (January 24, 2006). "Another Outsider Falls Casualty to Nike's Insider Culture". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-02. 
  32. ^ Salter, Chuck (December 19, 2007). "The Knights' Tale". Fast Company. Retrieved 2009-10-27. 
  33. ^ The Oregonian, "The closing tally on the Measures 66 and 67 campaigns: $12.5 million" March 03, 2010
  34. ^ "Nike Inc. Amended Statement of Ownership", EdgarOnline. Accessed: August 23, 2012.
  35. ^ "Five Direct-Elects for the Class of 2012 Announced By the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame" (Press release). Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. February 24, 2012. Retrieved February 24, 2012. 
  36. ^ Brown, Kate. "Oregonians For Higher Education Excellence". Oregon Secretary of State. Retrieved 23 May 2012. 
  37. ^ Jaquiss, Nigel. "Tim Boyle, Pat Kilkenny Ante Up For Higher Ed PAC". Willamette Week. Retrieved 23 May 2012. 
  38. ^ Jaquiss, Nigel. "New Political Action Committee Will Focus on Higher Ed". Willamette Week. Retrieved 23 May 2012. 
  39. ^ "Phil and Penny Knight to OHSU: $500 million is yours for cancer research if you can match it". Oregonian. September 21, 2013. Retrieved 1 October 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Deford, Frank. 1993. "Running Man," Vanity Fair, August 1993, 56(8), pp. 52–72
  • Knight, Phil. 2009. "When Things Don't Go Right: What Nike Learned In China," Playboy, February 2009, 56(2), pp. 26, 111
  • Strasser, J.B., and Laurie Becklund. 1993. Swoosh: The Unauthorized Story of Nike and the Men Who Played There. HarperBusiness. ISBN 0-88730-622-5
  • Teitel, Emma 2012. "Nike's Strange Moral Code" Maclean's, February 13, 2012

External links[edit]