Phil Knight was born on February 24, 1938. As a youth, he was very active in athletics and his high school's newspaper.
After high school, Knight enrolled at the University of Oregon, studying business administration. In his free time, he ran for the school's track team and managed to run a mile in four minutes and ten seconds. He graduated in 1959 and enrolled in Stanford University's MBA program.
In 1962, he received his master's degree in business administration and started looking for business opportunities. In 1964, he formed a partnership with his track coach, Bill Bowerman. They both invested $500 in a new venture called "Blue Ribbon Sports".
Both Phil and Bill felt that American-made running shoes were uncomfortable and inadequate. The goal of Blue Ribbon was to design a shoe that was superior for athletics. The company had a rough start, with Phil selling shoes out of his station wagon.
While starting the business, Phil also worked a day job as an accountant and taught at Portland State University. By 1969, he was making enough money from Blue Ribbon Sports to quit these jobs and focus solely on the business. In 1972, the company took a major turn and launched the "Nike" brand, named after the Greek Goddess of victory.
The first pair of shoes to be released under the Nike name was "The Cortez", which was released in 1972. Phil and Bill liked the name Nike so much that they changed their company name to it. Their business exploded after the launch of The Cortez and by 1979 they had 50% of the United States' track shoes market.
Nike undertook a very strategic marketing campaign that used a lot of celebrity endorsements to establish itself as the leader. Their most famous endorser was none other than Michael Jordan, widely considered to be the best basketball player of all time. With Jordan's "Air Jordan" line, Nike secured its lead in the athletics shoes market over the 1980s and 1990s.
With the extra money, Nike decided to venture into other markets. They began manufacturing Nike clothing, including everything from socks to polo shirts. The clothing line was also very successful and remains popular with athletes today. Knight is credited with pioneering new concepts in shoe design, including air cushioning and the waffle sole design.
On December 28, 2004, Knight decided to step down as CEO of Nike to pursue other interests. He retains a 35% stake in the company, worth some $7.4 billion, and is one of the top 50 richest people in the United States.
Despite his success, Knight has been criticized by some, including Michael Moore, for using sweatshop labor to manufacture its clothing and shoes. Nike has since taken steps to improve working conditions in its factories.