Thursday, October 6, 2016

Phil Knight Sprints To The Fore With Nike

Phil Knight just does it.
He turns Nike into a champion.
He makes icons out of the Swoosh and the athletes who wear it, from track king Carl Lewis to tennis queen Serena Williams.
He has $24 billion, ranking 17th among America's wealthiest, reports Forbes.
As CEO for four decades and now chairman, he's overseen Nike stock sprints of 9,000% (1984-97) and 613% (2009-15).
He's out with a book, "Shoe Dog," a tale of his long slog in the footwear industry.
By next year, the Nike co-founder will wear a new title: former executive. He'll be leaving the world's No. 1 sports merchandising company, with 63,000 employees and $31 billion in annual sales.
"Pretty good when you consider that in 1964 we had $8,000 in sales and $234 in profit," said Knight, 78. "We had to run a tight ship."
And what waves he's created.
"He built an empire on a vision of shoes," said H.W. Brands, author of "Masters of Enterprise." "He made lots of money, employed lots of people and gave great satisfaction to his customers. He could have done a lot worse."
Knight also has made lots of impressions with Nike's advertising, especially with the "Just Do It" campaign.
"When the Bulls won their third straight National Basketball Association title in June 1993," Donald Katz wrote in his book, "Just Do It," on the Knight endeavor, "the most popular line imprinted on caps and sweatshirts was a play on Nike's famous call to arms of the reinvention years: 'Just Did It,' went the variant apothegm. 'Again And Again And Again.' "

Instant Replay

That repeat success has led to Swoosh equipment all over the field. They're all so colorful these days, with Olympic track shoes and college football helmets especially going Nike neon and glossy.
The college football uniforms "have all sorts of fingerprints," said Knight, lauding Todd Van Horn and Tinker Hatfield in the Nike design department.
As for what gets the chairman going, "I'm still a good shoe guy. New shoes light me up."
Which brings up the Olympicsrunning Aug. 5 to 21 in Rio de Janeiro.
"I always get pumped up for the Olympics," said Knight. "I'm a running guy, and I like that this is really the chance for track and field to shine.
"We get to display our product. If this were a fashion show, that would be our runway.
"The Olympics always bring back memories, especially with Tiger shoes at our first Games, the 1968 Olympics."
By that two-week extravaganza in Mexico City, Knight's dream was still fresh. As he noted in "Shoe Dog," the sneaker idea germinated during a 1962 run in his native Portland, Ore., not long after graduating from the University of Oregon, Stanford's business school and the Army.
He thought of one of his teacher's points: "The cowards never started, and the weak died along the way -- that leaves us."
He also thought of what inspired him: "The secret of happiness ... lay somewhere in that moment when the ball is in midair, when both boxers sense the approach of the bell, when the runners near the finish line and the crowd rises as one. ... I wanted that, whatever that was, to be my life, my daily life. ... So that morning in 1962 I told myself: Let everyone else call your idea crazy ... just keep going. Don't stop."
He didn't. Soon he was off to Japan to land a deal selling sneakers in America. He went on to travel more of Asia and beyond, finally settling home in early 1963 and seeing that first box arrive: "12 pairs of shoes, creamy white, with blue stripes down the sides. God, they were beautiful. ... I'd seen nothing in Florence or Paris that surpassed them."
Knight was infatuated, something crucial in what drives him: "Your business has to be something you really love. Remember that there will be a lot of dark moments. You never make it overnight. You have to be prepared for the tough times. As my Stanford Small Business Management professor Frank Shallenberger liked to say, 'The only time you must not fail is the last time you try.' "
Knight simply kept trying. He asked for shoe input from his Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman, and over lunch in January 1964 he told him "about my trip around the world. Kobe, Jordan, the Temple of Nike."
Bowerman was hooked: "Those Japanese shoes. They're pretty good. How about letting me in on the deal?"
Knight: "When the waitress dropped off the check for the two hamburgers, we split that too. Fifty-fifty."

Just Do It Duo

The Knight-Bowerman team became Blue Ribbon Sports, distributing Japanese-made shoes in the American West.
"I quit my job at the accounting firm," wrote Knight, "and all that spring I did nothing but sell shoes out of the trunk of my Valiant."
By July, he had sold out his first shipment. He ordered 900 more and got a bank loan to back him. It was part of a hot 1964, with every Japanese runner at the Tokyo Olympics wearing the same Tigers that Knight was selling.
The next year, Knight made his first hire, Jeff Johnson, who would brainstorm the firm's new name: Nike, for the Greek goddess of victory.
Knight cheers such wisdom: "Underlining all the hurdles are people. We've hired a lot of creative people, whether they're the lawyers to think or the accountants to count. The people are the life and death of our company."
Then there was Carolyn Davidson. Knight met her in a college hallway and asked her to design print ads. She created the Swoosh that ran as hard as any company's logo, including the McDonald's arches.
Johnson put it this way: "It was a holy mission, you know, to Swoosh the world, to get Swooshes on everybody's feet. We were Knight's crusaders. We would have died on the cross."
Knight's company was alive and kicking in the late 1960s, doubling sales yearly to today's equivalent of $2 million. Still, he taught accounting at Portland State University for needed cash. And while there he met a student, Penelope Parks, who became his wife and mother of their two sons.
The next decade brought Knight his first big-name endorsement athlete, Romanian tennis star Ilie Nastase, and college basketball coach Dick Harter of Oregon. Such recognition helped Nike ignite sales from $8 million in 1974 (worth $38 million today) to $140 million in 1979 (or $457 million now).
The 1980s saw Nike factories humming in Taiwan, Korea, England and Ireland, and Knight's fortune multiplying to the $200 million range.
The CEO was sitting pretty at Nike's Beaverton, Ore., headquarters, which expanded to 200 acres with buildings named after endorsement stars: Joan Benoit, Ken Griffey Jr., Mia Hamm, Tiger Woods, Dan Fouts, Jerry Rice, Steve Prefontaine.

Nike Like Mike

The biggest Nike get was Michael Jordan, fresh out of college in 1984. Knight saw him as an NBA giant before many others did and signed him to beat sneaker rival Reebok.
"I just don't want to be like my competitors," noted Knight, who also says: "We take a lot of our culture off the athletic field. Just like with tackles and running backs, we have to have better people than the competition."
He recalled a remark by Bowerman, who died in 1999: "Play by the rules, but be ferocious."
As Jordan soared, so did the firm he sported. "Air Jordan proved to be a very good thing for Nike," wrote Brands. "The line sold more than $100 million in its first year, the largest figure for any endorsement in history until then."
From 1985 to 1993, wrote Katz, "Nike's ad budget swelled from under $20 million to well over $150 million -- new Nike commercials projected billions of Michael Jordan impressions with each new selling season."
Knight, the former middle-distance runner, was on another lap toward becoming "the most powerful man in sports," as the Sporting News dubbed him.
Now in his last leg as Nike's chairman, Knight spends half his time on projects at the Beaverton office a half-hour from his home, in what he calls a good relationship with CEO Mark Parker.
Knight doesn't run anymore, no thanks to his age. Instead, he walks for exercise and stays atop his old sport.
Watching a race once, he said: "There was much to be learned from such a display of passion, whether you were running a mile or a company."

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