AIB Featured Business Leader Philip H. Knight

AIB Featured Business Leader Philip H. Knight

There are many businesses in the world that have changed the foundations of society – this week’s featured business leader was the brains behind one of the most revolutionary sporting brands in the world, the one and only Nike. As the co-founder and current chairman of Nike, Inc., Philip H. Knight remains instrumental in the progression of the sporting goods company, which was built from humble origins in Portland, Oregon.

A track star in high school, Phil Knight was always passionate about improving the quality and design of sporting shoes – as was his high school track coach, Bill Bowerman. Though he was a leading sportsman for many years, Phil was also academically minded – he pursued and achieved an MBA with a specialisation in Finance from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business after he completed his studies at the University of Oregon (UO).

It was during his MBA studies that he realised his flair for entrepreneurship – the final paper of his MBA degree explored the idea that high-quality running shoes could be manufactured in Japan, and that these Japanese shoes would be able to compete with more established German brands (such as Adidas) due to their quality and cost-effectiveness.

After making a connection with Tiger, a leading Japanese shoe brand of the time, Knight became a dealer for their brand in the western United States. With this came the creation of a business partnership between Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman.

The pair pledged $500 each and bought their first order of Tiger shoes. Knight sold the shoes from his car, while Bowerman experimented with new technology and innovative ideas to make the design of the shoes lighter and more durable – and Bowerman’s continuing involvement with the UO track team allowed him to test the idea with their target market immediately.

From these humble beginnings, an idea was born. Largely championed by Knight and his entrepreneurial ambition, and supported by Bowerman and Knight’s combined knowledge of athletics, Nike was born in 1971. The company commissioned its trademark logo, commonly called ‘the Swoosh’, from an art student at Portland State University and began manufacturing sporting apparel – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Nike has become one of the most recognisable and respected brands in the world. It was instrumental in the careers of many of the world’s greatest sportspeople including Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Serena Williams – and has sponsored several leading national teams in a variety of different sports.

For his part, Knight held the position of CEO from the company’s inception until November 2004, at which point he chose to step away from the role. He still remains as Chairman of the Board to this day, and is still heavily involved in the company he began to dream of in the 1960s. Some of his best advice in relation to business comes in the many one-lined quotes he’s used throughout his interviews and public life. One such quote has become one of Nike’s foundation business principles – “play by the rules, but be ferocious.” It is this value, among other, that drives Nike to continually be innovative and helps them remain as a world leading business.

His vision, leadership, and passion for both business and sport has extended into his personal life also – he uses his wealth to fund a variety of programs that support business, sport and wellbeing. Most notably, he donated upwards of $100 million to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, to help support students with entrepreneurial dreams like he himself had while studying there in the early 1960’s. He is also a consistent supporter of his home state of Oregon, supporting the sporting programs at his alma mater, University of Oregon, as well as a variety of health and wellbeing projects across the region.

The business that Phil Knight built from scratch with the assistance of his university track and field coach is, I believe, remarkable. It’s fascinating to learn that this world-leading brand all began from a business plan and a great deal of hard work. For me, hard work is a key factor of good leadership – and there’s no doubt that Phil Knight was willing to put in the effort to achieve his business goals.

What do you classify as an essential skill for leadership in an entrepreneurial business, and why? What would you count as the most revolutionary business around the globe? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

This article was written by Simone Ball on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources have been used to prepare this article:  Wikipedia, Oregon Blue Book, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Nike and Quoteswise. Image sourced from Sneaker Freaker.

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