Notable Oregonians: Phil Knight - Innovator, Business Leader

photograph of Phil Knight in suit jacket with striped tie
Phil Knight, 1938—. (Image courtesy Nike)
Phil Knight was born Feb. 24, 1938. As a youth he played sports and covered the sports beat for his high school newspaper. Knight graduated from the University of Oregon with a B.S. in business administration in 1959. There he competed on the track team and recorded a personal best time of 4:10 for the mile run. He received an MBA from Stanford University in 1962.
In 1964 Knight and his former track coach, Bill Bowerman, each invested $500 to start Blue Ribbon Sports, the progenitor to Nike. They had both expressed dissatisfaction with American running shoes and decided to try to improve on shoe design. Off to an uncertain start, Knight sold his shoes out of the back of a station wagon but continued to practice as a certified public accountant and teach at Portland State University until 1969.
The Cortez, the first shoe to appear under the Nike brand, arrived on the athletic scene in 1972. It became successful and launched substantial growth for the the company named for the Greek goddess of victory. By 1979, Nike claimed 50% of the U.S. running shoe market. Through the 1980s and 1990s, Nike's advertisements helped make it the foremost retailer of athletic shoes worldwide. Most of the advertisements featured endorsements from athletes such as basketball player Michael Jordan and golfer Tiger Woods as well as slogans such as "Just Do It." The company has expanded over the years to design and market apparel and sports equipment. It is now the world's largest sports and fitness company.
Nike innovations in shoe design include the waffle sole and air cushioning. Knight also introduced several advances in the field of sports business. In 2004, he stepped down as chief executive officer and president of Nike. Knight continued as chairman of the company's board of directors until 2016.
Knight purchased the stop-motion animation company Will Vinton Studios in 2002 and changed the name to Laika. The company released its first feature film Coraline in 2009.
With a net worth estimated at over $28 billion, Knight has been active with philanthropy. He donated $105 million to the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2006, the largest donation to a business school in history to that date. He also provided financial assistance to his high school alma mater Cleveland High School in Portland for their new track, football field, and gymnasium. Knight and his wife, Penny, donated $100 million to the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute in Portland in 2008. In 2013, Knight announced that he would donate $500 million to the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, if OHSU could match it over the subsequent two years. The university met the challenge in 2015. A prominent booster of University of Oregon sports, Knight's donations over the years have paid for many state of the art athletic facilities at the university. In 2016 he donated $400 million to create a new scholars program at Stanford University.
In 2000, the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame inducted Knight for his special contribution to sports in the state. In 2012, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor for his role in Nike's huge financial support for the sport and its players.
Also see Bill Bowerman.
(Sources: Stanford Magazine | Who2)
Next Notable Oregonian: Jon Krakauer >