Penny Knight is Nike founder Phil Knight’s first and only wife. They met in 1968, in the early days of Nike’s founding, married the same year, and have been together since.
Learn the history of Penny Knight, Phil Knight, and Nike, in this excerpt from our summary of Shoe Dog.
Blue Ribbon sales are set to double yet again, for its fifth straight year. But they’re still skating on such thin ice that Phil Knight can’t afford to draw a salary.
His accounting job at Price Waterhouse takes up 6 days a week, and Phil wants more time for Blue Ribbon than just weekends and late nights. He quits and takes up a teaching position at Portland State University, paying $700 a month.
He teaches Accounting 101, where a striking young woman with blond hair and blue eyes sits in the front row. She reminds him of Cleopatra and Julie Christie. During roll call, he learns her name – Penelope Parks. She’s shy but is a star student, scoring at the top of her class, and she asks Phil to be her adviser.
Phil Knight has a better idea – she should join Blue Ribbon. She agrees.
Penny readily completes miscellaneous operational tasks for Blue Ribbon – bookkeeping, typing, scheduling – with an enthusiasm that lightens the air in their small worn-down office. Phil is bewitched, and they exchange long meaningful glances.
Phil Knight finally asks Penny out on a date. She shares her background – with four siblings, money was always an issue in her house. She wants security in her life. That’s why she likes accounting – it’s a solid, dependable job.
They keep dating and eventually meet each other’s parents. Penny’s mom, Dot, is a spirited character, seeming like an eternal teenager and more like Penny’s sister than mother. They go out drinking together and Dot seems to approve of Phil.
The relationship moves quickly. Phil wants to elevate their relationship beyond just teacher-student dating (which Portland State doesn’t approve of). They get engaged, just like that, after a few months of dating.
The next day Phil Knight leaves for Japan to develop Blue Ribbon’s partnership with Onitsuka. Newly engaged, he feels like never before that Penny is his partner in life.
Says Phil about Penny: “The single easiest way to find out how you feel about someone. Say goodbye.”
In September, Penny and Phil marry in Portland. It’s a good year for Phil.
Once again, sales are poised to double for Blue Ribbon, at $300,000 this year. Phil feels it’s finally safe to pay himself a salary ($18,000 a year), and he quits Portland State to go full time at Blue Ribbon.
Now married, Phil and Penny Knight learn to live together. Phil is absentminded and messy, but Penny adapts to him. She adapts to everything, including his meager salary. Penny learns to stretch the budget each week in groceries.
Penny Knight gets pregnant, and they move into a house in Beaverton, OR. It’s a boy.
Because Phil Knight and Onitsuka are on very thin ice, he decides to sever ties and begin manufacturing his own shoes.
Phil Knight and Sumeragi meet with factories in Japan. They visit a factory called Nippon Rubber, part of Bridgestone Tire. Knight shows them the Cortez in the morning, and after lunch they present a brand-new manufactured Cortez, Nike stripe and all. Confident, Phil describes shoes for a range of sports, including tennis, basketball, and running shoes. Within a few days, he gets samples – they’re not perfect, but they’re very good.
He’d been in Japan for 3 weeks, and he needs some more time to visit Onitsuka, who might get suspicious if they knew he had been in Japan for this long. Penny Knight flies over and has a panic attack from the turbulent flight, chaos and crowdedness of Japan.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Shoe Dog summary:
- How Phil Knight started Nike when he was just 24 years old
- The lawsuit that almost ended Nike
- The ups and downs of Nike over 20 years of business