Phil Knight said Thursday he is resigning as president and chief executive of Nike Inc. but will remain chairman of the world’s largest athletic shoe and clothing maker at a time when sales for the "swoosh" logo are growing around the globe.
Knight, 66, will be succeeded by William D. Perez, head of S.C. Johnson & Son Inc., a consumer products company that makes Glade air fresheners and Drano drain cleaner.
A former University of Oregon track star, Knight founded Blue Ribbon Sports Inc. with his coach, Bill Bowerman, in 1968. Some of the first running shoes, which Knight sold out of the trunk of his car at track meets, had soles Bowerman made on a waffle iron.
The company was renamed Nike, after the Greek goddess of victory, in 1972.
Knight has served as Nike president several times. He held the position from the company’s start until 1983, when he briefly gave up the title before resuming it in 1984. He gave it up again in 1990 before resuming in 2000.
Under Knight’s direction, Nike has become a $12 billion global business, selling apparel and equipment with an ever-wider range of shoes.
In September, Nike reported that first-quarter sales were up 18 percent to $3.56 billion from $3.02 billion a year ago. Global orders jumped nearly 10 percent, with less than 1 percent of the growth due to changes in currency rates.
The company also reported a large increase in its U.S. orders, up 11 percent to $1.4 billion – reversing a declining trend in the national shoe market over the last several years.
Knight’s combined salary and bonuses for this year were nearly $3.7 million, up from nearly $2.5 million last year.
Knight was listed by Forbes magazine in February as No. 53 in the world on its international list of billionaires, worth an estimated $7.1 billion. By September, when Forbes published its list of the wealthiest people in the United States, Knight was worth an estimated $7.4 billion and ranked No. 22 in the United States.
Under Knight, Nike pioneered celebrity athlete endorsements of its products. The company signed basketball great Michael Jordan in 1984, turning him into a brand name with Air Jordan shoes. Along the way they’ve also snagged such big-name athletes as Tiger Woods and LeBron James and made the swoosh one of the most recognized trademarks in the world.
Nike has had its share of critics – including activists who brought attention to working conditions at the company’s foreign factories. Nike claims it has improved factory conditions and promoted fair labor practices internationally.
Perez, 57, has been president and chief executive of S.C. Johnson since 1996. He has worked for the consumer products company for 34 years.
"I am confident that as CEO of Nike Inc., Bill will lead Nike’s extraordinary team of people to create an even bigger and better global company," Knight said in a prepared statement.
He did not give a reason for relinquishing the titles. His resignation is effective Dec. 28.
The move follows three high profile resignations at Nike’s shareholders’ meeting in Portland this September.
At that meeting, the three oldest members of Nike’s board of directors stepped down, citing increased scrutiny of the age of company directors among stockholders.
They include John Jaqua, 84, Richard Donohue, 77, and Chuck Robinson, 85.