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The 19th richest American and the world’s 47th wealthiest man is a native of Oregon. Not only is he a business magnate but is also a well-loved philanthropist with millions of dollars of donations to his two Alma Mater: University of Oregon and Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Philip Hampson “Phil” Knight was born February 24, 1938. He is the son of William W. Knight, a lawyer who turned into a newspaper publisher and his wife Lota Hatfield. Thinking that he will just find a job on his own, his father didn’t even allow him to get a summer job in his own newspaper company the Oregon Journal. With this decision, Phil went to their rival publisher the Oregonian.

His entrepreneurial skill was awakened while attending Stanford Graduate School of Business. It was his stop in Kobe, Japan that he stumbled upon his gold mine. In November 1962, while in Japan he discovered the Tiger-brand running shoes. With his interest in track, he was very amazed with the quality of the footwear that he requested to meet up with the Mr. Onitsuka, the owner of the label. He requested for samples to be sent to the US and he introduced this to Bill Bowerman with hopes of sales and endorsements. Bowerman was his coach and will soon become his business partner.

With Bowerman’s interest in the product and his design ideas coming into play, they partnered on January 25, 1964 to create Blue Ribbon Sports. This company will soon become the number one brand name in running shoes, Nike. It was Jeff Johnson,a friend of Knight who suggested the name Nike, after the Greek winged goddess of victory. The company’s logo, which would soon become one of the most powerful brands in the world was designed by Carolyn Davidson for $35.

With estimated net worth of $14.4 billion, Phil Knight sits as the chairman of the board of Nike after he abandoned his CEO post on November 18, 2004. He is currently busy with his Knight Foundation together with his wife Penny whom he married on September 13, 1968.

 

Bringing more than two decades of leadership experience to his present responsibilities as Vice President of Global Brand Marketing at Nike, Inc., Davide Grasso consistently demonstrates that when it comes to effective advertising, companies that push the limits tend to reap the most considerable rewards. Unrivaled in size and demographic reach, Nike recently overhauled its marketing strategy to leverage new developments in the digital tech sector, a move spearheaded by Grasso that spotlights the corporation’s decreasing reliance on conventional big-budget promotional efforts. Spending almost $800 million on non-traditional forms of advertising in 2010 alone, Nike continues to formulate marketing directives with a concerted focus on social media and web-based outreach, two young yet promising platforms that Davide Grasso utilizes to the fullest extent in his work.

Over the course of his twenty-year tenure at Nike, Davide Grasso has held top-level executive roles within all six of the sportswear giant’s brand categories, positions that included Italy’s Director of Marketing, Europe’s Director of Apparel Marketing, Director of Brand Marketing in the United States, and Vice President of Asia Pacific Marketing. Prior to assuming his current post in 2010, Davide Grasso served as Vice President of Global Football Marketing in charge of Nike’s international soccer arm. In this capacity, he worked in close collaboration with advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy to launch “Write the Future,” an ingenious film and Internet hybrid campaign that debuted during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Aside from the fairly recent introduction of Nike’s Digital Sport division to Nike+, the company’s cutting-edge partnership with Apple, Davide Grasso has overseen unique and critically acclaimed campaigns like “The Black Mamba,” “The Chosen,” the KobeSystem,” and “Basketball Never Stops.” Always seeking uncharted avenues for innovation, Grasso looks forward to a new era in marketing where companies can connect with consumers on a truly meaningful level by making the most of all the digital world has to offer.

Phil Knight was once recognized as the most powerful man in sports, but he was neither an athlete nor was he a team manager or owner. To those who don’t know him, Knight is the man behind Nike, the brand who shod the feet of sports legends and weekend warriors alike.

Knight had his first stroke of inspiration while he was working on his master’s degree at Stanford University.  He was assigned to write a term paper on starting a small business, and naturally, the former University of Oregon track star chose athletics. Knight created a plan that attempted to break Adidas’ monopoly on the running-shoe market. Little did he know that this term paper would become the foundation for his very own company.

Shortly after graduating, the force behind Nike decided to pursue his business plan. He flew to Japan to acquire cheap labor and create cheaper athletic shoes. There, he confronted a manufacturer of an Adidas knockoff and introduced himself as the founder of a company that existed only in his mind. He made a sweet offer to the manufacturer and hired them to create 200 pairs. Knight and his partner, his former track coach Bill Bowerman, had the ball rolling as they sold the shoes at high school track meets all over the Pacific Northwest.

The fruits of his direct sales paid off and reached $3 million. He finally named his company Nike, named after the Greek goddess of victory.  He paid a Portland State art student $35 to create the infamous “swoosh” logo, which now symbolizes a billion dollar enterprise.

The Nike boss admittedly hates advertising, but his company’s marketing strategy is one of the most effective yet. With top athletes wearing his brand, his products are doing all the talking. This simple yet effective campaign solidified Nike’s status as a top choice for athletic footwear and apparel. Consequently, this made Knight one of the most powerful figures in the industry today.

The Nike sneakers featured in the film, "Back to the Future."

 image via Andy Nugent