Nike Co-Founder Phil Knight Just Gave Stanford Its Largest Donation Ever

February 24, 2016, 10:45 AM UTC
Knight Management Center Opens At Stanford Graduate School Of Business
The Stanford Graduate School of Business stands during the the grand opening of the Knight Management Center in Palo Alto, California, U.S., on Friday, April 29, 2011. Construction on the complex started in 2008, after Nike founder Philip Knight contributed $105 million in 2006 to get the project started. Photographer: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Tony Avelar — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Philip Knight, a co-founder of the iconic Nike brand, has said that he has a “soft spot” for education. Based on his latest donation to Stanford University, that is quite the understatement.

The University announced on Wednesday morning that Knight has donated $400 million to the school for a new graduate-level leadership program. The sum is the largest donation Stanford has ever received and matches the largest gift ever bestowed to a university. Hedge fund magnate John Paulson last year donated $400 million to Harvard’s engineering school.

Stanford said that the new program will be named the Knight-Hennessy Scholars, after Nike’s Knight and John Hennessy, the university’s outgoing president, who will serve as the program’s inaugural director after he steps down this summer. Stanford described the program, which is intended to rival the Rhodes scholarships, as “a global, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary program, supported by Stanford’s seven graduate schools that foster service, collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship.”

The program will be funded by a $750 million endowment, with Knight’s $400 million serving as the founding gift. Stanford says the $750 million figure makes the new program the largest endowed scholarship in the world, and since 80% of it will directly support financial aid for students, it represents the largest single increase in student financial aid in the school’s history. Every year the program will admit 100 students, who will receive funding to cover their graduate education and living expenses for three years. The first cohort will start their studies in the fall of 2018.

Knight earned his MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1962, two years before he helped found Nike as Blue Ribbon Sports. Since then, he has amassed a fortune worth some $25.7 billion as Nike ascended to become the largest sporting-goods company in the world; its trademark Swoosh, a staple of popular culture, is now one of the most recognizable logos in the world. Knight served as president of Nike from 1968 to 1990, except for a period from June 1983 to September 1984, and again from June 2000 to 2004. He currently serves as the company’s chairman, but will step down later this year.

Knight’s $400 million gift to Stanford is just the latest demonstration of his philanthropy. In June 2015, he donated $500 million to cancer research after Oregon Health & Science University met his challenge to fundraise that same amount. In 2006, he gave the Stanford Graduate School of Business $105 million, which at the time was thought to be the largest gift ever to a business school. He’s also reportedly donated hundreds of millions of dollars to his alma mater, the University of Oregon—mainly to the school’s athletic department—though he’s declined to publicly disclose the sums.

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