Protip: Don’t Ever Ask an Accountant to Design Your Latest Line of Apparel

Business Insider recently published an article that contains excerpts from “Shoe Dog,” the 2016 memoir of Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who used to be a CPA and worked early in his career at Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand before selling shoes out of his car at track meets.

During Nike’s early days, Knight wrote that he wanted to surround himself with bright people, so he seemed to hire “nothing but accountants and lawyers” because they have “sharp minds.”

“That was our priority, and accountants and lawyers had at least proved that they could master a difficult subject. And pass a big test,” Knight writes. “Most also demonstrated basic competence. When you hired an accountant, you knew he or she could count. When you hired a lawyer, you knew he or she could talk.”

Knight was right, you guys do have sharp minds and you guys do know how to count. Good move on his part.

However, while you guys are known for your smarts, you aren’t known for your great fashion sense. Knight should’ve known this, as he used to be one of you. So why Knight asked an accountant to design Nike’s first line of clothing is kind of a head-scratcher. And, as you can imagine, it turned out to be not so good:

In 1978, Nike was gearing up to launch its first apparel line. Knight tapped Ron Nelson, an accountant, to develop it. He reasoned that apparel, when compared to footwear, was easy.

“There wasn’t any technology or physics involved,” Knight wrote.

It turned out to be a disaster. Unfortunately, according to Knight, Nelson had no sense of style and came up with a line of clothing that resembled “soiled workout shorts, ragged T-shirts, wrinkled hoodies — each putrid item looked as if it had been donated to, or pilfered from, a dumpster.”

Knight transferred Nelson to the production department and tapped eventual Nike president Bob Woodell, who did his “typically flawless job.”

In fiscal year 2018, Nike pulled in $14.86 billion in sales in North America, $4.9 billion of which was in apparel.

Lesson (obviously) learned.

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