Phil Knight
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Phil Knight

Phil Knight
Knight in 2010
Philip Hampson Knight

(1938-02-24) February 24, 1938 (age 81) Portland, Oregon, U.S.
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma materUniversity of Oregon
Stanford University
Occupationchairman emeritus - Nike, Inc.
Net worthIncrease US$37.6 billion (October 2019)[1]
Penelope "Penny" Knight
ChildrenMatthew Knight
Travis Knight
Christina Knight
Parent(s)William W. Knight
Lota Hatfield Knight

Philip Hampson "Phil" Knight, whose nickname is "Buck"[2] (born February 24, 1938) is an American business magnate and philanthropist. A native of Oregon, he is the co-founder and current chairman emeritus of Nike, Inc., and previously served as chairman and CEO of the company.[3] As of October 2019, Knight was ranked by Forbes as the 21st richest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of US$37.6 billion.[4] He is also the owner of the stop motion film production company Laika.

Knight is a graduate of the University of Oregon and Stanford Graduate School of Business. He ran track under coach Bill Bowerman at the University of Oregon, with whom he would co-found Nike.

A noted philanthropist, Knight has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to each of his alma maters, as well as Oregon Health & Science University. In total, he has donated over $2 billion to the three institutions.[5]

Early life

Phil Knight was born in Portland, Oregon to Bill Knight, a lawyer turned newspaper publisher, and his wife, Lota (Hatfield) Knight.[6][7] Knight grew up in the Portland neighborhood of Eastmoreland, and attended Cleveland High School. According to one source, "When his father refused to give him a summer job at his newspaper [the now defunct Oregon Journal], believing that his son should find work on his own," Knight "went to the rival Oregonian, where he worked the night shift tabulating sports scores and every morning ran home the full seven miles."[8]

Knight continued his education at the University of Oregon (UO), in Eugene, where he is a graduate brother of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, was a sports reporter for the Oregon Daily Emerald[9] and earned a journalism degree in 1959.[10]

As a middle-distance runner at UO, his personal best was 1 mile (1.6 km) in 4 minutes, 10 seconds,[11] and he won varsity letters for his track performances in 1957, 1958 and 1959. In 1977, together with Bowerman and Geoff Hollister, Knight founded an American running team called Athletics West.[12]


Early career

Before the Blue Ribbon Sports business that would later become Nike flourished, Knight was a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), firstly with Coopers & Lybrand, and then Price Waterhouse. Knight then became an accounting professor at Portland State University (PSU).[13]

Nike Inc.

Immediately after graduating from the University of Oregon, Knight enlisted in the army and served one year on active duty and seven years in the Army Reserve.[6] He next enrolled at Stanford Graduate School of Business,[6] where, for his small business class, Knight produced a paper, "Can Japanese Sports Shoes Do to German Sports Shoes What Japanese Cameras Did to German Cameras?," that essentially premised his eventual foray into selling running shoes. He graduated with a master's degree in business administration from Stanford in 1962.[6]

Knight set out on a trip around the world after graduation, during which he made a stop in Kobe, Japan in November 1962. It was there that he discovered Tiger brand running shoes, manufactured in Kobe by the Onitsuka Co. Impressed by the quality and low cost of the shoes, Knight called Mr. Onitsuka, who agreed to meet with him. By the end of the meeting, Knight had secured Tiger distribution rights for the western United States.[14]

The first Tiger samples would take more than a year to be shipped to Knight; during that time he found a job as an accountant in Portland. When Knight finally received the shoe samples, he mailed two pairs to Bowerman at the University of Oregon, hoping to gain both a sale and an influential endorsement. To Knight's surprise, Bowerman not only ordered the Tiger shoes, but also offered to become a partner with Knight and provide product design ideas. The two men agreed to a partnership by handshake on January 25, 1964, the birth date of Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS), the company that would later become Nike.[15]

Knight's first sales were made out of a now storied green Plymouth Valiant automobile at track meets across the Pacific Northwest. By 1969, these early sales allowed Knight to leave his accountant job and work full-time for Blue Ribbon Sports.[14]

Jeff Johnson, Nike's first employee, suggested calling the firm "Nike," named after the Greek winged goddess of victory,[16] and Blue Ribbon Sport was subsequently renamed Nike in 1971.[17]

Nike's "swoosh" logo, now considered one of the most powerful logos in the world, was commissioned for US$35 from graphic design student Carolyn Davidson in 1971.[18] According to Nike's website, Knight said at the time: "I don't love it, but it will grow on me." In September 1983, Davidson was given an undisclosed amount of Nike stock for her contribution to the company's brand. On the Oprah television program in April 2011, Knight claimed he gave Davidson "A few hundred shares" when the company went public.[19]

At Nike, Knight developed personal relationships with some of the world's most recognizable athletes, including Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.[20][21]

Vinton Studios becomes Laika

Following mainstream success in the late 1990s, Will Vinton Studios animation company sought external investors due to rapid growth, including Knight, who assumed a 15 percent stake in the company, in 1998, and facilitated the employment of his son Travis- who had graduated from PSU following an unsuccessful attempt at a rap music career -as an animator.[22]

Citing mismanagement, Knight eventually purchased Will Vinton Studios and assumed control of the company's board with the cooperation of Nike executives. In late 2003, Knight appointed his son to the board and, after Vinton had stepped down-- prior to leaving the company with a severance package --Knight rebranded the company Laika. He then invested US$180 million into Laika, and the studio released its first feature film, Coraline, in stop motion, in 2009. Coraline was a financial success and Travis Knight was then promoted into the roles of Laika CEO and president.[22][23]

Death of Matthew Knight

In May 2004, two years after Knight bought Vinton, his son Matthew, aged 34 years, traveled to El Salvador to film a fund-raising video for Christian Children of the World, a Portland nonprofit organization. However, while scuba diving with colleagues in Lake Ilopango, near San Salvador, he died immediately from a heart attack 150 feet (46 m) underwater due to an undetected congenital heart defect. Knight and Travis traveled to El Salvador to return Matthew Knight's body to the U.S.[23] Laika Studio's 2005 short film Moongirl was dedicated to Matthew's memory.[24]

Knight resigned as the CEO of Nike on November 18, 2004, several months after his son Matthew's funeral,[23] but retained the position of chairman of the board.[25][26] Knight's replacement was William Perez, former CEO of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., who was eventually replaced by Mark Parker in 2006.[27]

In 2011, the Matthew Knight Arena at the University of Oregon was named in his honor.[28]

Post-Nike CEO role

During the 2009-2010 period, Knight was the largest single contributor to the campaign to defeat Oregon Ballot Measures 66 and 67, which, once passed, increased income tax on some corporations and high-income individuals.[29]

According to a February 10, 2012 filing by attorney John F. Coburn III, on behalf of Knight, Knight owned 67,097,005 shares of Class A Common Stock and 7,740 shares of Class B Common Stock in the Nike corporation.[30]

In June 2015, Knight and Nike announced that he would step down as the company's chairman, with president and CEO Mark Parker to succeed him.[31][32] Knight's retirement from the Nike board took effect at the end of June 2016. In September 2017, Knight decided to come out of retirement to put black back in the UNC jerseys for the Phil Knight Classic in Portland, Oregon.[33][34]


Knight's memoir, Shoe Dog, was released on April 26, 2016 by Simon & Schuster, was rated fifth on The New York Times Best Seller list for business books in July 2018,[35] and details the building of the Nike brand, from importing Japanese shoes to being part of a federal investigation.[36][37]


As of 2016, according to Portland Business Journal, "Knight is the most generous philanthropist in Oregon history. His lifetime gifts now approach $2 billion."[38]

Stanford University

In 2006, Knight donated US$105 million to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, which, at the time, was the largest ever individual donation to a U.S. business school. The campus was named "The Knight Management Center," in honor of Knight's philanthropic service to the school.[39]

In 2016, it was announced that Knight contributed $400 million to start the Knight-Hennessy Scholars graduate-level education program inspired by the Rhodes Scholarship.[40] Graduates are charged to tackle global challenges, such as climate change and poverty. The first class of 51 scholars from 21 countries was scheduled to arrive at Stanford in the fall of 2018.[41][42][43]

University of Oregon

Knight has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to the University of Oregon. Major gifts include funds supporting the renovation of the Knight Library and construction of the Knight Law Center. Knight also established endowed chairs across the campus.[44] In the fall of 2016, it was announced that Knight will donate $500 million to UO for a new three-building laboratory and research science complex.[45] This donation was part of a series of large higher-education gifts.[46]

Oregon Ducks

In August 2007, Knight announced that he and his wife would be donating US$100 million to found the UO Athletics Legacy Fund to help support all athletic programs at the university. In response, athletic director Pat Kilkenny said: "This extraordinary gift will set Oregon athletics on a course toward certain self sufficiency and create the flexibility and financial capacity for the university to move forward with the new athletic arena." At the time, the donation was the largest philanthropic gift in the history of the university.[47]

The 2010 construction of the UO basketball team's Matthew Knight Arena was the result of a partnership between Knight and former Oregon athletic director Pat Kilkenny. Although Knight didn't pay for the project directly, he established a $100 million "Athletic Legacy Fund." The fund supports the athletic department.[48] Named after Knight's deceased son, the venue replaced the McArthur Court building and cost over US$200 million to build. The facility was built using bonds backed by the State of Oregon.[48]

Knight was responsible for financing the UO's US$68 million 145,000 square-foot gridiron football facility that was officially opened in late July 2013. Knight's personal locker in the team's locker room displays the title "Uncle Phil", and other features include a gym with Brazilian hardwood floors, Apple iPhone chargers in each of the player's lockers, various auditoriums and meeting rooms, a games room for the players that includes flat-screen televisions and foosball machines, and a cafeteria.[49][50][51]

In November 2015, it was announced that Knight and his wife would be donating $19.2 million towards a new sports complex project at the University of Oregon. The plans for the 29,000 square foot complex was announced in September. Construction started in January 2016 and ended in September 2016.[52] The sports complex was named the Marcus Mariota Sports Performance Center and includes motion capture systems, neurocognitive assessment tools, 40-yard dash track, and steam machines made by Nike to help athletes break into their footwear more quickly.[53]

In October 2016, Knight and his wife invested $500 million to build a new campus dedicated to science, called the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. Three new buildings will be constructed and will provide 750 family-wage jobs once it is completed and fully operational.[54][55]


Knight's contributions to the athletic department at UO have also led to controversy.[56] In April 2000, student leaders began organizing an anti-sweatshop and fair labor practices campaign, and called for Dave Frohnmayer, president of the school, to support the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC). On April 4, 2000, students began a sit-in at Johnson Hall, the UO's administrative center. In early April, an open meeting of students further demanded that the organization Fair Labor Association (FLA) would receive no consideration from the university, as it was perceived as a group founded, funded and backed by Nike and other corporations, and had also been criticized by worker rights advocates as an exercise in dishonest public relations.[57][58]

University President Dave Frohnmayer subsequently signed a one-year contract with the WRC; Knight then withdrew a US$30 million commitment toward the Autzen Stadium expansion project and offered no further donations to the university.[59][60] In a public statement, Knight criticized the WRC for having unrealistic provisions and called it misguided, while praising the FLA for being "balanced" in its approach.[61] In the face of ongoing conflict with students, Frohnmayer sided with Knight's assertion that the WRC was providing unbalanced representation[62][63] and, in October 2000, Eugene Weekly reported Frohnmayer stating that:

On February 16, 2001, the Oregon University System enacted a mandate that all institutions within the system choose business partners from a politically neutral standpoint, barring all universities in Oregon from joining either the WRC or the FLA.[64] Following the dissolved relationship between the university and the WRC, Knight reinstated the donation and increased the amount to over US$50 million.[65]

Also controversial was Knight's success in lobbying for former insurance executive Pat Kilkenny to be named as athletic director at the university.[66] Kilkenny had neither a college degree nor any prior experience in athletics administration. He attended but did not graduate from UO, as he left the school with several credit hours still owing. Prior to his appointment at UO, Kilkenny had been the chairman and chief executive officer of the San Diego-based Arrowhead General Insurance Agency, and grew the business into a nationwide organization, with written premiums of nearly US$1 billion when he sold the company in 2006.[67]

Other projects

Knight's personal hangar at Hillsboro Airport.

In October 2008, Knight and his wife pledged US$100 million to the OHSU Cancer Institute, the largest gift in the history of Oregon Health & Science University. In recognition, the university renamed the organization the "OHSU Knight Cancer Institute."[68]

In October 2010, Knight donated several million dollars to the Catlin Gabel School to establish a scholarship for incoming freshmen students.[69]

Knight's Green, a lawn named after Knight at Marylhurst University in Marylhurst, Oregon.

On May 18, 2012, Knight contributed US$65,000 to a higher education Political Action Committee (PAC) formed by Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle.[70][71] According to Boyle, the PAC will help facilitate an increase in the autonomy of schools in the Oregon University System.[72]

On September 27, 2013, Knight announced to the audience at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute's biennial gala, when he announced his intention to donate US$500 million for research if OHSU could match it over the subsequent two years.[73] On June 25, 2015, OHSU met that $500 million goal, and Knight announced his upcoming $500 million donation, to bring the total to $1 billion raised.[74]

Knight and wife Penny also donated to the Marylhurst Knights Opportunity Scholarship Program at Marylhurst University, a private Roman Catholic university in Marylhurst, Oregon; as a result, the university named a lawn on their campus "Knight's Green" in the family's honor.[75]

In December 2016, Knight disclosed that he had gifted $112 million in Nike stock to charity.[76]


In 2000, Knight was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame for his Special Contribution to Sports in Oregon.[77] At the time of his induction, he had contributed approximately US$230 million to UO, the majority of which was for athletics.[78]

On February 24, 2012, Knight was announced as a 2012 inductee of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, as a contributor. The Hall recognized him as the driving force behind Nike's huge financial support of U.S. basketball and its players. Knight was formally inducted on September 7, 2012.[79]

For his "contributions to business, corporate and philanthropic leadership", Knight was elected to the 2015 American Academy of Arts and Sciences membership class.[80][81]

Personal life

Knight met his wife, Penelope "Penny" Parks, while he was working at Portland State University and the pair were married on September 13, 1968.[82] They own a home in La Quinta, California.[83]

Knight donated almost $3.5 million to Republican Knute Buehler's unsuccessful 2018 Oregon gubernatorial campaign.[84]

See also


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  3. ^ "Nike's Knight, 77, handing off chairman duties".
  4. ^ "Forbes 400: Phil Knight". Forbes. Retrieved 2018.
  5. ^ Rogoway, Mike. "Phil and Penny Knight's charitable contributions top $2 billion". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d Krentzman, Jackie (1997). "The Force Behind the Nike Empire". Stanford Magazine. Archived from the original on June 25, 2010. Retrieved 2008. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |journal= (help)
  7. ^ "Phil Knight". Accessed May 13, 2012.
  8. ^ Susan Hauser (4 May 1992). "Must Be the Shoes". People. Accessed 12 January 2018.
  9. ^ "Phi Gamma Delta". Retrieved 2019.
  10. ^ magazine, STANFORD. "The Force Behind the Nike Empire". Retrieved 2019.
  11. ^ "Notable Oregonians: Phil Knight -- Innovator, Business Leader". Oregon Blue Book. Retrieved 2008. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  12. ^ Jeed S (November 4, 2010). "History of Athletics West". A Pride As An Asian. Wordpress. Retrieved 2014.
  13. ^ Anne M. Peterson, "Nike's Phil Knight resigns as CEO," Seattle Times, November 19, 2004. Accessed May 13, 2012.
  14. ^ a b "Nike History and Timeline". University of Virginia. Retrieved 2015.
  15. ^ "History & Heritage". Nike, Inc. Nike. 2014. Archived from the original on May 15, 2014. Retrieved 2014.
  16. ^ Knight, Phil (2017). Shoe Dog: Young Readers Edition. Simon and Schuster. pp. 229-230. ISBN 9781534401181.
  17. ^ Vinton, Kate. "Phil Knight's Net Worth Jumps $1.9 Billion After Announcement Of Nike Deal With Amazon". Forbes. Retrieved 2017.
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  22. ^ a b Zachary Crockett (May 9, 2014). "How the Father of Claymation Lost His Company". Priceonomics. Priceonomics. Retrieved 2014.
  23. ^ a b c Salter, Chuck (December 19, 2007). "The Knights' Tale". Fast Company. Retrieved 2009.
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  28. ^ "Oregon basketball: Emotions high as Phil Knight opens Matthew Knight Arena". Retrieved 2017.
  29. ^ "The closing tally on the Measures 66 and 67 campaigns: $12.5 million".
  30. ^ John F. Coburn III (February 13, 2012). "NIKE INC Filed by KNIGHT PHILIP H" (PDF). FORM SC 13G/A (Amended Statement of Ownership). EDGAR Online, Inc. Retrieved 2014.
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  37. ^ Gates, Bill. "An Honest Tale of What It Takes to Succeed in Business". Retrieved 2017.
  38. ^ Kish, Matthew Portland Business Journal: "As philanthropy ramps up, Phil Knight gifts $112 million in Nike stock", 28 December 2016.
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  40. ^ Stanley, Alessandra (February 24, 2016). "Philip Knight of Nike to Give $400 Million to Stanford Scholars". New York Times. Retrieved 2016.
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  42. ^ Amini, Mariam (March 3, 2018). "Alphabet's John Hennessy talks about helping international students with scholarships". CNBC.
  43. ^ FAQ for Knight-Hennessy Scholars Archived August 10, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Stanford. Retrieved February 24, 2016
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  45. ^ Theen, Andrew. "Phil and Penny Knight will give $500 million to University of Oregon for science complex". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2016.
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  68. ^ "Knights to give $100 million to OHSU Cancer Institute". Oregon Health & Science University. October 29, 2008. Retrieved 2009.
  69. ^ House, Kelly (October 28, 2010). "Nike founder Phil Knight donates millions to Catlin Gabel School in Cedar Mill". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2017.
  70. ^ Brown, Kate. "Oregonians For Higher Education Excellence". Oregon Secretary of State. Retrieved 2012.
  71. ^ Jaquiss, Nigel. "Tim Boyle, Pat Kilkenny Ante Up For Higher Ed PAC". Willamette Week. Retrieved 2012.
  72. ^ Jaquiss, Nigel. "New Political Action Committee Will Focus on Higher Ed". Willamette Week. Retrieved 2012.
  73. ^ "Phil and Penny Knight to OHSU: $500 million is yours for cancer research if you can match it". Oregonian. September 21, 2013. Retrieved 2013.
  74. ^ "Knight Challenge Nets Oregon Health & Science University $1B for Cancer Research". ABC news. June 25, 2015. Retrieved 2015.
  75. ^ "Campus Tour". Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved 2015. Knight's Green: A sprawling green lawn, named in honor of Nike's Phil and Penny Knight whose generosity made possible the Marylhurst Knights Opportunity Scholarship Program.
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  77. ^ "Philip H. Knight - Special Contribution". Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2011.
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  79. ^ "Five Direct-Elects for the Class of 2012 Announced By the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame" (Press release). Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. February 24, 2012. Archived from the original on March 14, 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  80. ^ "Phil Knight recognized by AAAS for business and philanthropic contributions". Around the O. April 22, 2015. Retrieved 2016.
  81. ^ "American Academy of Arts and Sciences - Newly Elected Members" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. April 2015. Retrieved 2016.
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  83. ^ Kai Acevedo (January 4, 2016). "Nike's Phil Knight Lists California Home for $2.5 Million". Haute Media Group. Retrieved 2018.Free to read
  84. ^ Daniels, Jeff (November 6-7, 2018). "Oregon's Democratic Gov. Kate Brown wins re-election against GOP challenger Knute Buehler: NBC News". CNBC. Retrieved 2018.

Further reading

  • Deford, Frank. 1993. Nike has sponsored Hamza "The Truth" Day, all league linebacker from Wilson High School. pp. 52-72
  • Knight, Phil. 2009. "When Things Don't Go Right: What Nike Learned In China," Playboy, February 2009, 56(2), pp. 26, 111
  • Strasser, J.B., and Laurie Becklund. 1993. Swoosh: The Unauthorized Story of Nike and the Men Who Played There. HarperBusiness. ISBN 0-88730-622-5
  • Teitel, Emma. 2012. "Nike's Strange Moral Universe" Maclean's, February 13, 2012

External links

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