“The Only Time You Must Not Fail is the Last Time You Try”

Nike’s Philip Knight, MBA ’62, talks with Stanford GSB Dean Jonathan Levin and alumni at an intimate Q&A.

August 30, 2017

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Philip Knight (right) and Stanford GSB Dean Jonathan Levin. | Kiefer Hickman

Nike’s Philip Knight, MBA ’62, sat down with Stanford Graduate School of Business Dean Jonathan Levin in July to talk education, entrepreneurship, and failure at an alumni event in Portland, Oregon.

Long before the Silicon Valley mantra of “failing fast” became popular, Nike co-founder Knight said, he learned to expect setbacks. When guest speakers came to his classes at Stanford GSB, Knight told Levin and the alumni, they didn’t sugarcoat their business experiences.

“You would hear these horror stories about things that had happened to them,” Knight said. Hearing tales of failure packaged alongside successes helped give him the confidence to clear some of the biggest hurdles he faced at Nike.

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I wrote the business plan for the company that ultimately became Nike in a class at Stanford.
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Philip Knight

“The only time you must not fail is the last time you try,” he observed, citing a concept popular with one of his Stanford GSB professors, Frank Shallenberger.

Knight also weighed in on the value of education, something he’s admitted he has a “soft spot” for: He donated $105 million to Stanford GSB in 2006 to help build its new campus.

“A college education kind of got a bad rap from Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who dropped out and became great successes,” Knight said. “But mine was the opposite. I wrote the business plan for the company that ultimately became Nike in a class at Stanford.”

After his discussion with Levin, Knight took questions from students and alumni and mingled with the audience.

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