How One Man Built Nike
He began his career like most ordinary college grads: no money, no clear direction and what looked like a lifetime at a desk job as an accountant. What happened instead was one of the greatest stories of American entrepreneurship and a $100 billion sportswear giant. This is the story of Nike Co-founder Phil Knight, who turned his crazy idea into reality. The 78-year-old is telling the story behind Nike for the first time in his new memoir, “Shoe Dog.”
The idea for the athletic apparel giant “came from running track at Hayward Field in Oregon and out of the classroom at Stanford business school,” Knight said. He describes himself as “average mid-distance runner”, on the track team. During that time he watched as his track coach at University of Oregon, Bill Bowerman, tinkered with athletes’ running shoes and the immediate impact it made on their performance.
First called Blue Ribbon Sports, Knight’s business began on a whim, when he convinced a group of Japanese businessmen to export their popular Tiger sneakers to the United States and give him the license to sell them. After selling Tigers out of the trunk of his car, Knight saw the demand was there.
So he ordered more and more sneakers from Japan. Soon, he had to hire additional people to keep up with the growing interest. It wasn’t always a smooth ride. Knight’s shipments from Japan were rarely on time, and he frequently faced major financing problems. Despite Knight doubling his sales every year, banks were reluctant to provide the loans needed, and two banks ultimately dropped him as a customer.
Knight originally wanted to call the company “Dimension Six,” something he was teased about later on. “Just think where we’d be if I picked that name,” he said. “When Jeff Johnson came up with Nike, I didn’t know if I liked it too much, but it’s better than the other names. It turned out pretty good,” he added.
After years of strong growth but with struggles to stay profitable, Knight and his team decided in December of 1980 to finally allow the public to invest in Nike shares public. “We were concerned about losing control,” said Knight, who added that ultimately, it was one of the best things the company ever did. Immediately, Knight’s ownership in shares made him worth $178 million.
In June, Knight is handing the baton to Nike CEO Mark Parker, who will take over as chairman of the board. “I’m excited about the future of Nike,” Knight said. “I think a great growth period lies ahead.”