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Philip Knight

Philip H. Knight - Special Contribution

Phil Knight graduated from the University of Oregon with a personal best in the mile run of 4 minutes 10 seconds. While studying for his eventual MBA from Stanford University, Knight wrote a marketing paper on the potential of manufacturing athletic shoes in Asia. While visiting Japan, he discovered Onitsuka Tiger, a company that made inexpensive, high-quality running shoes. Knight decided to put his money where his pen was and with a $500 investment matched by partner Bill Bowerman, Knight began Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964. Their new company imported Tigers, with Bowerman designing and Knight selling shoes out of the back of his car at high school track meets. Knight continued to work as a CPA, becoming an Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Portland State University. In 1969, Knight devoted himself full-time to Blue Ribbon Sports, becoming chairman and CEO of the fledgling company.  Worried that Tiger would find a more established distributor, he and Bowerman developed their own brand name, Nike, after the winged goddess of victory. Knight paid an advertising student in Portland State #34 to design the logo. It was now up to the research and development department to devise a product upon which to place that logo. The man who Knight called “part genius, part madman and the best coach I ever had” did not disappoint.  Bowerman experienced his now-famous epiphany after looking at his wife’s waffle iron. In 1972, the waffle-soled running shoe was born and it was just the first step in a race that Nike would win to become the world’s leading designer and marketer of athletic footwear, apparel, and equipment. Knight inspired many innovations in the business of sports including futures-based ordering, substantial investment in product research and development, and styling ties between product and athlete. Nike went from sales of less than $3 million in 1972 to sales of almost $270 million in 1980 in running, basketball, and tennis shoes. Sales hit $1 billion in 1986 and then came a challenge from rival Reebok. Knight then took Nike to the next level with some of the most creative and memorable marketing and advertising the business world has ever seen. Utilizing the talents of Portland ad agency Wieden and Kennedy, Nike made popular icons of athletes such as Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, and Andre Agassi; and slogans such as “Just Do It” became part of everyday conversation. These tactics, along with continued innovative product designs, helped Nike to record profits in the 1990’s reaching nearly $9 billion in revenue in 1999. Such success has allowed Knight to make numerous philanthropic donations to a variety of academic and sports organizations, including over $50 million to his alma mater, the University of Oregon.