Hires

Legendary entrepreneur Phil Knight's net worth is astounding. What he's doing with it is even more incredible. Photo: Nike.com.

 Nike founder Phil Knight started an empire more than 50 years ago when he created his sports-apparel company that quickly became the No. 1 brand in the world. Now the company ranks 18th on Forbes ' 2015 brand-power list and made almost $28 billion in sales during its most recent fiscal year. 

Nike's success has made Phil Knight one of the richest people in the world. Knight stepped down as CEO nearly 10 years ago but has remained an active leader as chairman of the board of directors. Now, at 77 years old, Knight is stepping down as chairman next year and retiring from an active leadership role. Even though he's no longer at the helm of Nike, his wealth continues to amass as Nike's stock continues climbing. 

Build it and they will come
Before Knight started his athletic footwear and apparel company, he graduated from the University of Oregon, where he was a track athlete, and then from Stanford with an MBA. After graduation he traveled for some time, and while in Japan was impressed by shoes he found in a factory there that could be produced cheaply and still at high quality. 

Knight came back to the U.S. and at just 25 years old started Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964, selling shoes. In 1972 he changed the name to Nike, for the Greek goddess of victory. Knight got his shoes on the feet of Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine, and the Swoosh took off. Nike went public in 1980, and under co-founder Knight's tenure as CEO and then as chairman, the stock has soared more than 32,000% in those 35 years. 

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A late 1970's era Nike running shoe with Knight's waffle sole. Source: Smithsonian Institute.

Where Knight is spending his money now
Now Knight is is a very active member of the community through philanthropy. He and his wife, Penelope, still live in Oregon and are active supporters of the University of Oregon. The school has honored Knight and his family for their donations by naming the library after Knight's mother and putting his father's name on the law school, and Knight has even been inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. 

But it's not just athletics Knight is giving to. The Chronicle of Philanthropy listed Knight and his wife No. 3 on their list of most generous philanthropists in 2014 for their $500 million match gift to the Oregon Health and Science University. The group estimates that Knight's lifetime giving amounts to more than $1 billion.

So what is Phil Knight's net worth now?
According to Forbes' Real Time Net Worth calculator, Knight is worth $24.7 billion as of August 2015 and is the 35th richest person in the world. As of last year, Knight still held around 20% of Nike's outstanding shares, which have soared over the past few years, helping his total net worth to continue surging.

"For me, Nike has always been more than just a company -- it has been my life's passion," Knight said in a Nike statement. "Over the years, I've spent a great deal of time considering how I might someday evolve my ownership and leadership of Nike in a way that benefits all of our stakeholders. ... For myself, I intend to continue to work with Nike and look forward to contributing to its future well after my chairmanship ends."

That statement came during Knight's announcement that he will step down as chairman of the board, the leadership position he's held since resigning as CEO in 2006. As he steps down, his son will join the board, keeping Knight's family active in the company, and probably growing the family fortune even further.  

Bradley Seth McNew owns shares of Nike. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Nike. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.