Nike is the number one athletic brand in the world. The famous curved swoosh logo can be seen in billboards and ads everywhere you turn. It has more than 700 shops around the world, offices located in 45 countries outside of the U.S. and retail outlets in more than 170 countries. Millions of people buy Nike merchandise everyday but few know the history of this amazing empire.
Nike, Inc (formally known as Blue Ribbon Sports) was created in 1964 by track athlete Phil Knight and his olympic coach Bill Bowerman of the University of Oregon. Knight started the business by importing shoes from Japan and selling them from the back of his car. After Knight sold some of his sneakers to Bowerman, the two became business partners. Knight would manage the business while Bowerman created the product design.
Rise of an Empire
The two men struggled with selling their product in the beginning, but by 1965, their sales started to peak at an impressive $20,000 and they were able to hire full-time employees. By 1966, their first retail store was opened in Santa Monica, California and during the next year they were able to expand their business to Wellesley Massachusetts. Their success allowed them to end ties with Japan and create their own line of footwear which featured the famous swoosh design by Carolyn Davidson. In 1971, the company changed its name from Blue Ribbon Sports to Nike (named after the Greek goddess of victory).
In 1976, Knight and Bowerman hired John Brown and Partners of Seattle to handle their advertising. Brown and Partners helped create the first Nike Ad which attained 50% of market share and assisted with boosting the company’s popularity. The “Just Do It,” slogan was created by Wieden Kennedy and remains a hit to this day.
Nike’s product line expanded in the 80’s and endorsements were signed with athletes such as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. Due to the company’s growing success, the two were able to purchase eight buildings in Beaverton Oregon that acted as the Nike world headquarters. The Niketown retail store was opened in downtown Portland in November of that year. Nike remained busy through the years, buying several apparel and footwear companies including Umbro, Hurley International, Cole Haan, Converse, and Starter. Sub companies such as Nike ACG, Nike SB, Nike SYX were also created. Aside from shoes and apparel, Nike began selling watches, heart rate monitors and sports equipment. They would later teamed up with big mega cooperation Apple, Inc.
By 2013, Nike’s global orders increased making a whopping $10.4 billion dollars in sales and was it was made a member of the S&P Dow Jones Industrial Average. In 2018, Knight was ranked by Forbes as the 28th richest person in the world with an estimated net worth of $30 billion dollars. Bowerman had a net worth of $400 million.
Retirement and Recognition
Knight was a huge financial support of athletics and has donated millions of dollars to the cause. Due to his contributions, he was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 2000 and would later be announced as an inductee of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012. In 2015, he became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Bowerman was also inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame, the USA National Track and Field Hall of Fame, the National Distance Running Hall of Fame, the RRCA Distance Running Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame. A statue was created in his honor and it’s housed at the University of Oregon. The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association created an award in his honor that is given to the most outstanding track and field athlete each year.
Knight stepped down as chairman in 2016 and Mark Parker took on the role.
Bowerman passed away in December of 1999.