Newsmaker: Phil Knight, Nike Chairman
Published 06/07/2015 | 02:30
World-famous sports stars make their fortunes on the track or the field - failed Olympic hopeful Phil Knight made his in the boardroom.
Little known in Ireland, he revolutionised the world of sports apparel and marketing, transforming a swoosh into an iconic brand known the globe over for Nike.
The former college middle-distance runner and journalism student partnered with his track coach at Oregon, Bill Bowerman, gathering together $1,200 to set up Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964. At first the firm did not manufacture its own shoes, importing them from a Japanese manufacturer called Onitsuka, now known as Asics. Mr Knight, who became a graduate business student at Stanford University in California, had argued in a marketing paper that "Japanese sports shoes can do to German sports shoes what Japanese cameras did to German cameras".
The company changed its name to Nike in 1971, and the brand took off when Mr Knight stepped in when Adidas passed on sponsoring a young Chicago Bulls basketball player called Michael Jordan.
A legend was born, on and off the playing court. Jordan was not even the first player selected in the NBA draft, but Mr Knight still offered him a shoe contract. It turned out to be arguably his best decision.
Jordan became the greatest player in basketball history, the Air Jordan shoes bearing his likeness selling more than five million pairs. And that initial $1,200 startup money is now worth about $93bn, of which Mr Knight's stake is $22.3bn.
Mr Knight announced last week that, at 77, he will step down next year as chairman of Nike. Since Mr Bowerman (credited with the idea of using a waffle iron to create the ubiquitous sports running shoe sole) died in 1999, it will be the first time neither founder is involved in day-to-day running of the company.
In a statement on the Nike website, Mr Knight said: "Nike has always been more than just a company - it has been my life's passion. I have long felt a great responsibility to provide clarity and certainty for the long-term governance and leadership of Nike and for my ultimate transition from chairman." Mr Knight recommended that current chief executive Mark Parker succeed him, while his son Travis Knight will join the board.
In 1998, Mr Knight vowed to improve working conditions following a 'Time' exposé.
"The Nike product has become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime and arbitrary abuses," he told a gathering, vowing to end child labour.
He has also been a generous philanthropist, particularly for his alma mater, the University of Oregon.