NEW YORK, July 1- Phil Knight, who built Nike from a modest US shoe company into a global sports giant and marketing juggernaut, will step down as chairman next year, the company announced Tuesday.
No departure date was set for Knight, a former track standout at the University of Oregon who launched Nike in 1968 after first selling sneakers out of his car and now has a massive headquarters campus in Portland, Oregon.
“For me, Nike has always been more than just a company — it has been my life’s passion,” Knight said.
Knight, 77, recommended that chief executive Mark Parker succeed him as chairman when he steps down sometime in 2016, the company said.
Nike has grown into a sports marketing behemoth, rivalling the much older German company Adidas. The company’s swoosh logo and “Just Do It” motto are ubiquitous in sports.
Today, Nike sponsors many of the world’s most iconic athletes, including Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Rory McIlroy, Roger Federer, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar.
Last week, Nike — which was added to the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 2013 — reported fiscal 2015 earnings of $3.3 billion on $30.6 billion in revenues.
Forbes magazine puts Knight’s net worth at $24.3 billion.
Knight said he plans to stay involved with Nike, and announced the creation of Swoosh, a limited liability company to hold the majority of his Nike stake.
The 128.5 million Nike shares transferred by Knight to Swoosh equal about 15 percent of outstanding Nike stock.
Knight will have two votes to one for each of the three other Swoosh board members, one of whom will be Parker.
In 2012, Knight was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor, in large part for what he brought to the sport on a promotion and marketing level.
Knight signed a groundbreaking deal with Jordan in 1984, the same year Jordan sparked a US college squad to Los Angeles Olympics gold and was taken third by the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Draft.
As Jordan displayed amazing talent, his Nike deal turned him into a superstar with marketing at an unprecedented level, including the creation of the Air Jordan shoe that changed the face of sports culture — and street fashion — forever.
Hammering Jordan’s Jumpman image into a logo and brand all its own, the link of star talent and the Nike brand was tight as never before, helping make Nike a force in sports and marketing beyond shoe sales.
Jordan’s talent, which brought Chicago six NBA titles in the 1990s, and Nike’s marketing savvy brought riches and global stardom for both.
Nike followed the same path with Woods in golf and Williams in tennis — and it’s that format that has spawned imitators, among them Under Armour with rising US golf star Jordan Spieth.
Nike also signed pioneer clothing deals with US colleges, linking brands to major sports programs like never before and boosting the popularity of both.