A tribute to Nike’s unsung hero Bill Bowerman


The Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman is often overlooked as the glory is often shifted to Phil Knight or many of the superstar athletes that are used to promote an endorse the brand.

He was born in 1911, the same year that the RMS Titanic sank, and he lived a long life and died in 1999. His military background gave him a desire to confirm to and enforce discipline. He achieved the rank of Major and managed to instil that discipline in his athletes.

He became the head coach at the University of Oregon in 1948, and it was there that he met a young runner called Phil Knight in the 1950s. Knight would begin to distribute training shoes from Japan and Bowerman would get his athletes to wear the shoes that Knight imported. After a while Bowerman saw the potential and wanted to start a joint partnership and Knight agreed. Eventually Bowerman would receive a 49% stake in the company.

Contrary to what many think, it was in fact Bowerman who used his wife’s waffle iron to create the distinction soul styles for his shoes that would become a design classic for shoes such as the Air Max model. The company that they created was called Blue Ribbon Sports and would later become Nike Inc.

‘Victory is in having done your best. If you’ve done your best, you’ve won.’
Bill Bowerman

Bowerman was constantly innovating and creating new styles of training shoe. Probably his biggest success was the Nike Cortez, and the shoe is still one of the most popular Nike models to this very day.

Unfortunately in the decades following the Cortez’ launch, Bowerman seemed to lose pace with the way that the industry was moving. It became less about athletes and more about brands, superstars, endorsements, and the more prominent athletes became brands within themselves in addition to the innovations of different shoes for different sports and the revolutionary air bubble system left Bowerman trying to understand a world that was passing him by.

As a consequence his significant contribution has often been overlooked and downplayed, as is often done in successful companies that have co-founders. Many are oblivious of Paul Allen of Microsoft’s contribution, Steve Wozniak’s contribution for Apple, and Garrett Camp’s contribution for Uber and so on.

Bowerman’s legacy is a pivotal part of the DNA of Nike, and his contribution and influence is still present within the Oregon roots of the company.


The Bill Bowerman Story – Builderman

Entrepreneur: Bill Bowerman

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