Sunday 25 February 2018

Nike co-founder Knight to step down

Nike chairman Phil Knight is to step down (AP)
Nike chairman Phil Knight is to step down (AP)

Nike chairman Phil Knight, who turned a business selling shoes out of the back of his car into the world's most valuable sports brand, is to step down as company chairman.

Mr Knight, 77, was a middle distance runner in college who began the company in a handshake deal with Oregon coach Bill Bowerman in 1964, with each putting up 500 dollars (£320).

With shrewd marketing campaigns built around celebrity endorsers like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, he made the Nike swoosh one of the most recognisable logos around the globe.

That phenomenal growth also landed Mr Knight on Forbes magazine's list of 50 richest people in the world, with a net worth estimated at 24 billion dollars (£15.3bn).

"For me, Nike has always been more than just a company - it has been my life's passion," Mr Knight said.

He wants Nike president and CEO Mark Parker, who has held those positions since 2006, to succeed him. No specific date was set for Mr Knight's departure, though he said he plans to stay involved in the business. Nike said it expected to name a new chairman in 2016.

Mr Knight sold his first pairs of shoes from an old Plymouth Valiant while travelling the same Pacific Northwest track circuit on which he once competed. The company was originally named Blue Ribbon Sports, but changed in 1978 to Nike - the winged goddess of victory in Greek mythology - on the advice of a friend.

"I don't love it, but it will grow on me," Mr Knight said at the time.

By 1969 he was making enough selling shoes to quit his full-time job as an accountant and devote himself to the footwear company. Two years later he paid 35 dollars (£22.40) to Carolyn Davidson for the original swoosh logo design now plastered across the uniforms and shoes of athletes from the World Cup to little leagues.

Building the brand through shrewd advertising campaigns and top-flight celebrity athlete endorsers like Jordan and Woods, he turned the company into what Forbes called the "most valuable sports brand in the world".

Mr Knight also says he will transfer most of his Nike stock to a limited liability company called Swoosh. The directors of the company will be Mr Knight himself, Mr Parker, and Nike directors Alan Graf and John Donahoe.

Mr Knight said he had transferred 128.5 million shares, or about 15% of Nike's total outstanding shares, to Swoosh. Because Mr Knight owns a large amount of Nike's Class A shares, which are not publicly traded, Swoosh now has the power to elect three-quarters of Nike's board.

Mr Knight says the move will help keep Nike's corporate governance strong.

As of a year ago he owned about 75% of Nike's Class A shares and a fraction of a per cent of its Class B shares. The Class B shares are currently trading around all-time highs and closed at 108.02 dollars (£69.35) yesterday.

The Beaverton, Oregon-based company also named Mr Knight's son Travis, 41, to take a seat on the board. He is the CEO of animation studio Laika and was producer and lead animator on the films ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls.

Press Association

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