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Old 08-21-2007, 12:48 PM
StarnetGypsy StarnetGypsy is offline
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COOL!

Always loved the story how he got started ....

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Knight was raised in Portland, the son of a lawyer turned newspaper publisher. He was a middle-distance runner for the University of Oregon track team, which at the time had one of the best programs in the country. Known as "Buck," Knight had more enthusiasm than talent, which made him the ideal human guinea pig for legendary track coach Bill Bowerman's endless tinkering with running shoes. "I was very aware of shoes when I was running track," Knight says. "The American shoes were offshoots of tire companies. Shoes cost $5, and you would come back from a five-mile run with your feet bleeding. Then the German companies came in with $30 shoes, which were more comfortable. But Bowerman still wasn't satisfied. He believed that shaving an ounce off a pair of shoes for a guy running a mile could make a big difference. So Bowerman began making shoes himself, and since I wasn't the best guy on the team, I was the logical one to test the shoes."

An indifferent student, Knight graduated from Oregon with a degree in journalism in 1959. He enlisted in the army for a year (and served in the reserves for seven), then enrolled at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford.

Stanford changed Knight's life. Finally, school wasn't drudgery. For the first time, he was excited to read about something other than sports. And it was in Frank Shallenberger's small-business class that Knight conceived Nike.

Shallenberger gave his class the following assignment: Invent a new business, describe its purpose and create a marketing plan. In his paper, "Can Japanese Sports Shoes Do to German Sports Shoes What Japanese Cameras Did to German Cameras?" Knight developed a blueprint for superior athletic shoes, produced inexpensively in Japan, where labor was cheaper. "That class was an 'aha!' moment," Knight says. "First, Shallenberger defined the type of person who was an entrepreneur--and I realized he was talking to me. I remember after writing that paper, saying to myself: 'This is really what I would like to do.' "

After graduating from Stanford, Knight acquiesced to his father's wishes and secured a "real" job with a Portland accounting firm. But first, he traveled to Japan, where he became enamored of Japanese culture and business practices. To this day, visitors to his office must remove their shoes--even their $180 Air Pamirs--before entering. And Knight took leave of our interview by forming a steeple with his hands and bowing.

Much has been made of Knight's meditative, almost dreamy mien and his affinity for all things Asian, especially Japanese. Knight refined both his philosophy of life and business while in Japan. He studied Asian culture and religion and climbed Mount Fuji, which the Japanese consider a sort of pilgrimage. He also visited the Onitsuka shoe factory in Kobe, which was producing Adidas knock-offs, called Tigers. Knight was so impressed with both the quality and low production costs that he made a deal with Onitsuka to distribute Tigers in the United States.

After returning from Japan in 1964, the 26-year-old Knight began peddling Onitsuka running shoes from the back of his green Plymouth Valiant at track meets across the Pacific Northwest. Adidas was hardly quaking in its cleats, and Knight kept his day job as an accountant. But he persevered, convinced that his inexpensive, high-performance shoes could beat the top "sneakers"--Adidas, Converse All-Stars and Keds--in the market. By 1969, at the fortuitous dawn of the jogging boom, Knight sold a million bucks worth of Onitsuka shoes bearing his Blue Ribbon Sports label.

In 1971, Knight decided he could retire his accountant's wing tips. It was also time to give his fledgling company a new name and logo. Knight favored "Dimension Six," but his 45 employees thankfully laughed that one down. Then Jeff Johnson, '63, a fellow running geek, proposed a name that came to him in a dream: Nike, for the Greek winged goddess of victory. The company paid $35 to commission a new logo--a fat checkmark dubbed a "swoosh"--and the new shoe debuted at the 1972 Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore.

Nike sold $3.2 million worth of shoes in 1972, and its profits doubled each of the next 10 years. Nike passed Adidas to become the industry leader in the United States in 1980, the year it went public. The company made a quantum leap in 1984 when it signed the 21-year old Jordan to endorse a basketball sneaker. Within a year, it seemed that every boy in America was strutting about in the clunky, siren-red Air Jordan high-tops. "It wasn't planning," Knight says. "We could see that he was a charismatic guy who jumps over the moon and is very competitive, but nobody could have predicted what he would become to our culture."
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