Philip Knight, the brash founder of Nike who became as synonymous with the sneaker brand as the swoosh logo, resigned on Thursday as chief executive after more than 32 years at the helm.
William Perez, 57, the chief executive of SC Johnson & Sons who spent 34 years there selling consumer products like Pledge and Off, will take over as Nike's newest leader, culminating a largely secretive search that took more than two years.
Knight, 66, will remain chairman and continue to oversee strategic planning.
The selection of Perez, a little-known but well-respected executive, to head the multibillion-dollar athletic apparel company came as a surprise to many in the sporting goods business.
He is, after all, a man who has never sold a single pair of sneakers yet must fill the shoes of someone who redefined the athletic footwear industry. Perez's experience with Nike has been limited to the shoes he has used to run 11 marathons, but he is considered an excellent marketer with a proven record of buying and managing well-known products.
"Bill is a highly regarded and deeply talented leader with more than 30 years experience as a builder of global brand," said Knight, who led the search process.
It also signals the end of an era. Knight, who co-founded Nike in 1972 after selling running shoes from the trunk of his car, turned the swoosh into one of the world's most recognizable brand symbols as the company grew to more than US$12.3 billion in sales.
With hip slogans like "Just Do It," huge endorsement deals with sports stars like Michael Jordan and hot-selling shoes that emphasized performance as well as design, observers say, he put his stamp not only on Nike but the footwear industry as a whole.
"Phil Knight has for a very long time been a part of the heart and soul of Nike," said Kevin Adler, a vice president at the Relay Sports and Even Marketing division of Publicis Group.
"How many CEOs do you know who literally have the corporate brand tattooed on their body?" he added. "Phil Knight does."
Knight will step down as chief executive at the end of next month, but Nike executives said that he still plans to come to the office every day. But he will focus on long-term strategy and leave the day-to-day management to Perez.
"I am thrilled and honored to run Nike. I was drawn to the company because the Nike brand perpetually stays current," Perez said in a statement.
The selection of Perez comes after a nearly two-year search, led by Knight and the search firm Heidrick & Struggles, that was kept largely from public view. The two current co-presidents, Charles Denson and Mark Parker, who were considered for the top position, are expected to remain at the company.
The choice of Perez may signal Nike's desire to widen its scope, especially as the company's North American core sales growth has significantly slowed, analysts said. Recently, analysts say that Nike has begun an effort to diversify with several acquisitions, adding brands like Converse, Hurley and Starter.