Step into the shoes of Phil Knight, the billionaire founder of Nike. Learn how he built a global sportswear phenomenon and got the world to lace up his iconic kicks.
Updated Jul 21, 2023
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Phil Knight is one of the wealthiest individuals in the world, with a $41 billion net worth. As the co-founder of Nike, Knight's entrepreneurial journey has been nothing short of remarkable.
From the humble beginnings as a small shoe distributor, Knight transformed the company into a global powerhouse, revolutionizing the sports apparel industry.
Knight's passion for athletics and business acumen were evident early on. Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1938, he excelled in sports, particularly track and field.
Knight ran for Cleveland High School as a middle-distance runner before accepting a scholarship at the University of Oregon. It was here that his relationship with legendary track coach Bill Bowerman would lay the foundation for their future collaboration.
Phil Knight holds degrees from the University of Oregon and the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Get ready to stride into Knight's fascinating life and remarkable success story, and uncover the secrets behind his rise to prominence, his unstoppable drive, and the lasting impact of his work. So strap on your running shoes, we're zooming into the journey of the man behind the iconic Nike swoosh.
February 24, 1938
American born in Portland, Oregon, USA
American business magnate
Sources of wealth
Stocks & startups, real estate, art, cars, and jets
Phil Knight's journey to becoming a billionaire began with his passion for athletics and a drive for success. Born Philip Hampson Knight in Portland, Oregon, in 1938, Knight displayed remarkable athletic talent from an early age.
As a standout middle-distance runner, he honed his skills at Cleveland High School and earned a track scholarship at the University of Oregon—where he also worked for the Oregon Daily Emerald. Little did he know that his time at the university would set the stage for his future success.
While at the University of Oregon, Knight crossed paths with Bill Bowerman, a legendary track coach known for his innovative training methods. This encounter would prove to be pivotal in Knight's life.
Bowerman saw potential in Knight as an athlete and a business-minded individual. Their mutual passion for sports and entrepreneurship sparked a partnership that would change the landscape of the sports apparel industry.
Knight enlisted in the Army after graduating from the University of Oregon and before undertaking higher education at the esteemed Stanford Graduate School of Business.
During his time at Stanford, Knight demonstrated his entrepreneurial prowess by authoring a paper titled "Can Japanese Sports Shoes Do to German Sports Shoes What Japanese Cameras Did to German Cameras?" Little did he know this paper would foreshadow his future venture into the running shoe industry.
Knight's astute analysis showcased his forward-thinking mindset and laid the groundwork for his eventual success in selling running shoes. It was a glimpse into his future as the co-founder of Nike and his revolutionary impact on the athletic footwear market. After graduation, Knight embarked on a global trip and stumbled upon Tiger shoes manufactured by Onitsuka Co. in Kobe, Japan.
In 1964, Knight and Bowerman decided to join forces and start a footwear distribution company. With an initial investment of just $1,000, they founded Blue Ribbon Sports, operating out of Knight's green Plymouth Valiant automobile.
Their initial business model focused on importing high-quality athletic shoes from manufacturers in Japan. Knight traveled to Japan to secure distribution deals, a testament to his hands-on approach and dedication to the business.
As Blue Ribbon Sports gained traction, Knight and Bowerman realized the need for their own line of innovative athletic footwear. They felt that existing running shoes did not meet the specific needs of athletes, and they set out to change that. Knight's travels to Japan allowed him to develop relationships with manufacturers who shared his vision.
In 1971, the company introduced its first line of products under the now-iconic brand name Nike—as suggested by its first employee, Jeff Johnson.
Before the success of Blue Ribbon Sports, which later became Nike, Phil Knight pursued a career as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). He initially worked at the accounting firms Coopers & Lybrand and later Price Waterhouse. Following his time in the accounting industry, Knight transitioned into academia and became an accounting professor at Portland State University.
With its innovative designs and commitment to quality, Nike began to capture the attention of athletes and sports enthusiasts around the world. Knight's relentless pursuit of excellence propelled the company to new heights.
Strategic partnerships with high-profile athletes such as Michael Jordan, tennis legend Andre Agassi, soccer icon Cristiano Ronaldo, golf superstar Tiger Woods, and endorsement deals with top sports teams solidified Nike's position as the frontrunner in athletic footwear and apparel. These partnerships boosted sales and allowed Nike to expand its reach and penetrate different sports markets.
In 1980, Nike went public, with its initial public offering generating significant capital for the company's expansion. This marked a major milestone in Knight's entrepreneurial journey, as the IPO catapulted Nike's valuation and laid the foundation for continued growth.
Under Knight's leadership, the company diversified its product offerings, expanded into international markets, and embraced innovative marketing campaigns that resonated with consumers.
Today, Nike is a global behemoth generating billions in revenue annually and is present in over 190 countries. From its humble beginnings as Blue Ribbon Sports to its status as one of the most recognized brands in the world, the company's success and Phil Knight's net worth are a testament to Knight's unwavering determination, innovative thinking, and entrepreneurial spirit.
Phil Knight's memoir Shoe Dog was published by Simon & Schuster in April 2016. The book quickly gained popularity and achieved significant success, reaching the fifth spot on The New York Times Best Seller list for business books in July 2018.
Shoe Dog provides readers with a captivating account of Knight's journey in building the Nike brand. It delves into the early days of importing Japanese shoes, the challenges faced, and his involvement in a federal investigation. The memoir examines the creation and growth of one of the world's most iconic athletic brands.
Phil Knight has established himself as a prominent philanthropist. In 1990, he founded the Philip H. Knight Charitable Foundation Trust and has since made generous contributions. Knight's philanthropic endeavors have had a significant impact on Stanford University.
He donated $105 million to the university in 2006—the largest individual donation to a U.S. business school at the time. In return, the university named a building on its campus the Knight Management Center.
In 2016, Knight contributed $400 million to establish the Knight-Hennessy Scholars graduate program to address global challenges such as climate change and poverty.
In 2022, he gifted Stanford $75 million to launch the Phil and Penny Knight Initiative for Brain Resilience, focusing on researching cognitive decline and degenerative brain diseases.
Knight's generosity also extends to the University of Oregon, where he has donated over $1 billion. Funding has supported various academic projects, including the renovation of the Knight Library and the construction of the Knight Law Center.
In terms of athletics, Knight has contributed to state-of-the-art facilities like the Moshofsky Center and the Matthew Knight Arena. His philanthropic efforts have left an indelible mark on universities and their communities.
A wise investor knows the importance of diversification in managing wealth. Phil Knight, the billionaire founder of Nike, is no exception. With his vast net worth and shrewd financial acumen, Knight has strategically allocated his resources across various asset classes, building a robust investment portfolio.
Knight has embraced a diversified approach from real estate to stocks, leveraging his knowledge and experience to make sound investment decisions. In this section, we will delve into the different asset classes that Knight has embraced, exploring how he maximizes his returns while minimizing risk.
So, let's take a closer look at how the iconic entrepreneur allocates his wealth and navigates the world of investments.
While building an iconic brand like Nike, Phil Knight also understands the potential of investing in stocks to grow his wealth. Knight has carefully navigated the stock market, making calculated moves to capitalize on market trends and drive profitable returns.
His investment portfolio includes diverse stocks, from high-growth technology companies to established blue-chip giants. With an eye for stocks with long-term potential, Knight has consistently focused on companies with a solid foundation, innovative products, and strong growth prospects.
One prominent stock in Knight's portfolio is, unsurprisingly, Nike itself. Based in Beaverton, Oregon, the brand has an expansive reach. They operate over 1,100 stores worldwide and generated $46.7 billion in yearly revenue.
As the co-founder of the company, Knight has remained a significant stakeholder in the business, out of both his belief in the brand and his shrewd investment outlook. As Nike's stock price has soared over the years, enabling Knight to see substantial profits by leveraging the company's global success.
The Knight family is the main shareholder of Nike Their current stake in the company is impressive, consisting of a 7% stake in Class A stocks and a 2.7% stake in Class B stocks held by Travis Knight, Phil Knight’s son.
The Knight family also has substantial control over the company by owning various trusts and a company called Swoosh, which owns the iconic Nike logo.
By combining their individual shares, the trusts, and that of Swoosh LLC, the Knight family controls a massive 97.1% of Class A stocks and 21.4% of Class B stocks. To summarize, the Knight family is the ultimate decision-maker in the Nike kingdom, as their combined ownership and control of the company is strong and commanding.
Aside from his Nike stock holdings, Knight has diversified his stock investments, targeting other promising sectors. Companies and startups in the technology industry, such as Apple and Intel Corporation, have caught Knight's attention. These tech giants have consistently demonstrated strong financial performance and innovation, leading to substantial gains for Knight's investment portfolio.
Knight's approach to stocks rides on a long-term strategy. While he keeps a watchful eye on short-term market fluctuations, he remains steadfast in his belief that solid, well-managed companies will deliver growth over time. By adopting a growth-oriented investment strategy focused on quality stocks, Knight has been able to leverage the power of the stock market to multiply his wealth.
When it comes to investing in the tangible and enduring, Phil Knight has a sharp eye for real estate. Knight recognizes the value of owning prime properties in commercial and residential sectors, leveraging his wealth to make strategic acquisitions.
One notable real estate investment by Knight was the purchase of a plot of land in La Quinta's exclusive Madison Club. Acquired for $2.5 million a decade ago, Knight recently sold the plot for $2 million, demonstrating a slight downturn in the real estate market. Additionally, Knight sold his home in the same area on the grounds of the La Quinta Resort and Club community for $1.5 million.
Knight's real estate ventures extend beyond the golf resort community. He owns a stunning property in Hillsboro, Oregon, with over 6,800 square feet of space, including four bedrooms, five bathrooms, and a guesthouse. Situated on over five acres of land, this luxurious estate is worth an estimated $2.1 million.
In 2014, the entrepreneur also invested $7.6 million to build a private jet hangar near Oregon. The 29,000-square-foot hangar stores the Knight family's planes between personal and business flights. The hangar provides a luxurious and convenient way for them to travel while potentially opening new opportunities for philanthropic trips and other business ventures.
The hangar sits adjacent to the one built by Nike in 2002 and was leased by Ochoco Administrative Services LLC in a 30-year agreement that sees it pay an annual rent of $53,000 and a one-time development fee of $177,000. Ochoco Private Hangar housed a Gulfstream V and a luxurious Gulfstream G650 at the time.
Knight employs a long-term strategy whenever he invests in real estate, aiming to generate rental income and substantial capital appreciation.
His real estate investments serve as a cornerstone of his wealth management strategy, providing him with a safe harbor for his wealth and demonstrating his ability to navigate the ever-changing real estate market and reap financial rewards and the prestige of ownership.
In April 2023, Phil Knight and his wife Penny invested $400 million into Portland to support the Rebuild Albina project. This investment aims to empower the Black community through education, culture, and fostering a sense of belonging in the Albina area.
The man behind Nike's iconic swoosh is passionate about footwear and sportswear, but also has a soft spot for art. Though he keeps his personal art collection under wraps, Knight's immense love for creativity and culture shines through his investments in institutions and initiatives celebrating the arts.
One example of Knight's devotion to the art world is his generous support for the Portland Art Museum. Back in 2018, alongside his wife Penny, he whipped out $50 million to contribute to the museum's capital campaign.
Their hefty donation was used to construct a shiny new pavilion spanning 30,000 square feet—an artful haven to exhibit contemporary masterpieces. This sleek addition enhances the museum's mission of preserving and showcasing artwork and also pumps vital funds into educational programs aimed at captivating the local community.
Knight's zest for fostering creativity and innovation doesn't stop at traditional art institutions. You'll find Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact at the University of Oregon. This campus bridges the scientific and artistic realms, promoting collaboration and out-of-the-box thinking across various fields.
With a firm belief in the symbiotic relationship between science and art, Knight champions the importance of both in propelling society forward.
While the specifics of Knight's treasure trove of personal art remain elusive, his investments and contributions to the art world speak volumes about his admiration for culture and creativity.
Like any futuristic collector, Knight recognizes potential financial gains from investing in the art market. Yet, he also grasps the deeper significance of supporting artists and institutions dedicated to nurturing the realm of artistic expression.
Phil Knight has a penchant for building a global sports empire but also enjoys the thrill of luxury cars. One of his prized possessions is a sleek and powerful Audi R8, worth a cool $120,000. Known for making bold choices, Knight opted for a black model with a striking silver sideblade, turning heads wherever he goes.
While Knight's Audi R8 may serve as a symbol of his success and taste for luxury, it's important to note that his investment in the car is primarily for personal enjoyment rather than financial gain. Knight's amassed fortune allows him to indulge in high-performance automobiles, embracing the excitement and prestige of owning such an impressive machine.
A keen-eyed Nike employee at the company's headquarters in Oregon took a snapshot of the car. The photo immortalizes Knight's Audi R8 parked proudly, reflecting his daring personality and ability to make bold statements, even with his choice of wheels.
Note that classic cars are typically appreciating assets. While Knight's investment could generate substantial financial returns if resold, it does contribute to his lifestyle and brings him joy. Plus, it's always nice to attend meetings and events in style.
Knight's impressive collection of assets extends to the skies, with his personal hangar housing three private jets—two of which are owned by Nike.
Knight's crown jewel is the Gulfstream G650, a luxurious jet with registration as unique as his entrepreneurial journey—N1KE. Valued at an eye-watering $65 million, this sleek aircraft offers Knight the freedom to travel the world in style and comfort.
While exact financial details about Knight's aviation investments remain undisclosed, it's safe to assume that the costs of acquiring, maintaining, and operating such an extravagant private jet are substantial.
Phil Knight's G650 private jet is worth around $65 million, not including operation and maintenance costs.
One interesting aspect of Knight's association with private jets is his willingness to share the perks of his jet ownership with his Nike team. Beyond the traditional use of private jets for executive travel, Knight invites employees to join him on his private jet adventures. This extraordinary privilege further cements the strong bond he shares with his team.
Knight's investment in private jets reflects his desire for convenience and his ability to embrace the finer things in life. By owning a personal flight hangar, he ensures accessibility and increased travel efficiency, enhancing his business and personal journeys.
Note that private jets, while symbolizing luxury and exclusivity, can also incur significant maintenance, fuel, and crew expenses. Nonetheless, for individuals like Knight, the investment is justified by the convenience, flexibility, and status of owning and operating a private aircraft.
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