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Phil Knight resigns Nike CEO post

Philip Knight, the co-founder of Nike Inc., has stepped down as chief executive officer, the company said Thursday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Phil Knight stepped down Thursday as president and chief executive officer of Nike Inc., the $12 billion athletic shoe and clothing company he co-founded and built into the world’s largest shoe maker and one of the best-known brands.

He will be succeeded by William D. Perez, head of S.C. Johnson & Son Inc., maker of Glade air fresheners and Drano drain cleaner.

Knight, 66, will remain as chairman of the company’s board of directors, the company said.

A former University of Oregon track star, Knight founded Blue Ribbon Sports, Inc., with Bill Bowerman in 1968. Knight’s first shoes, which he sold out of the trunk of his car, had soles made on Bowerman’s waffle iron. The company was renamed Nike in 1972.

Under Knight, Nike has been recruiting star athletes to promote its products — including Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.

“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 statement.

He did not give a reason for relinquishing the titles. His resignation is effective Dec. 28.

Knight relinquishes direct oversight of a profitable company with steadily growing worldwide sales.

In September, Nike reported a 25 percent increase in first-quarter profits. 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.

Nike has had its share of critics — including activists who brought attention to working conditions at the company’s foreign factories. Nike says it has improved conditions in the factories.

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 and also sits on the boards of cereal giant Kellogg Co. and retailer May Department Stores Co. Privately-held S.C. Johnson, based in Racine, Wis., had $6.5 billion in revenue last year.

Perez said he would stay true to Knight’s vision.

“You can feel the innovative spirit that Phil and his team inspires from product design, to retail to athlete partnerships. And I’m a strong believer in ‘Just Do It,”’ Perez said in a statement.

Shares of Nike fell 99 cents to close at $85 on the New York Stock Exchange before the news was released. In after-hours trading, the shares fell another $1.

Philip Knight, the co-founder of Nike Inc., is stepping down as chief executive officer, the athletic shoe company said on Thursday.

William Perez, who ran S.C. Johnson & Son Inc., was named CEO and president effective December 28.

Knight plans to continue as chairman of Nike, the world’s largest athletic shoe company.

“In the near term, I will focus my efforts on ensuring an effective transition and on evolving into my role as an active chairman,” Knight said in a statement.

Knight, 66, co-founded Blue Ribbon Sports Inc. in 1962, which was renamed Nike in 1972. His first job at the company was selling shoes out of the back of a station wagon at track meets and “looking for money.”

Perez, 57, spent 34 years at S.C. Johnson, the maker of Windex and Scrubbing bubbles cleaners and OFF! bug repellent, Nike said in a statement. He has been president and chief executive of the company since 1996.

John Horan, publisher of the Sporting Goods Intelligence industry newsletter, said Nike’s strong corporate culture and the fact Knight will remain as chairman of the board likely means there will be no change in the company’s direction.

“He is still such a presence at the company I can’t imagine it will change the direction,” Horan said.

Nike shares fell 99 cents, or 1.15 percent, to $85.00 on the New York Stock Exchange before the announcement was made.