Over the past 51 years, Nike co-founder Phil Knight built the company from an idea he had in grad school into one of the biggest companies in the world.
Knight might be stepping down as the brand’s longtime chairman this year, but his legacy will live on.
Here’s a look back at how Knight’s marketing prowess and relentless spirit have driven Nike from a selling a single running shoe to being synonymous with athletic gear.
Knight first came up with the idea for Blue Ribbon Sports -- the company that later became Nike -- during his time at Stanford. He teamed up with his college track coach from Oregon, Bill Bowerman, and each put in $500 to get the company off the ground.
One of Knight's biggest accomplishments was signing Michael Jordan for an endorsement deal and launching Air Jordan, now one of the most successful sneaker franchises of all time. Nike courted Jordan in 1985, when he was a college basketball all-star on his way to the NBA. He signed a five-year contract for $500,000 a year, an unheard of number at the time.
Air Jordans hit stores for $65 a piece in March of 1985, and by May, the company had sold $70 million worth of Jordans, earning more than $100 million in revenue from the shoe by the end of the year.
Knight altered Nike from a product-oriented company to a marketing-oriented one. He began appealing to the everyday customer, eventually turning around sales around. By the end of 1991, it had regained its footing, with sales totaling over $3 billion. 'The most important thing we do is market the product,' Knight told the Harvard Business Review in 1992. 'Marketing knits the whole organisation together. The design elements and functional characteristics of the product itself are just part of the overall marketing process.'
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