Can SC Johnson's Perez fill Knight's shoes as Nike CEO ?

By Published on .

While William D. Perez might lack the charisma of Phil Knight, analysts and observers say he has the business acumen to step into Mr. Knight's role as president-CEO of Nike.

And, besides: Mr. Knight will only be a few doors away, just in case.

Nike announced last week that Mr. Knight, who co-founded and started the company by selling sneakers out of his car, will step down from his position effective Dec. 28. Mr. Perez, who will make $1.35 million and have 200,000 shares of Nike, takes over after an eight-year run as president-CEO of package-goods giant SC Johnson.

Mr. Knight will remain as chairman at Nike, which reported in September that first-quarter sales were up 18% to $3.56 billion from $3.02 billion, year over year. Global orders were up 10% and U.S. orders were up 11% to $1.4 billion, a positive sign given the weakening athletic-shoe market the last three years.

package goods?

So who is William Perez and why was he chosen to run a $12.3 billion company whose brand is one of the world's most iconic?

"He's an avid runner and Nike loyalist," said Scott Bedbury, a former Nike chief marketing officer who now runs the consultancy Brandstream. "While there doesn't seem to be much innovation out there in the [consumer-package-goods] area, SCJ has done a pretty good job."

Despite Mr. Perez's package-goods orientation, few see any changes coming in the advertising handled by Nike agency Wieden & Kennedy. "Creatively, I doubt very highly you'll see [Perez] stray from what Nike and Wieden have done," said sports-marketing expert David Carter, president of Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group. The agency could not be reached for comment.

Rodney Northern, a former SCJ executive who now heads the consulting firm Nucleus Group, Racine, Wisc., said Mr. Perez is "a great strategic thinker" who also likes to delve into details of initiatives. He believes the SCJ and Nike cultures mesh in that both are somewhat driven by a social mission. SCJ has long received high marks for its diversity and environmental efforts, including employee-benefit programs that go beyond the norm, with elaborate fitness facilities and summer camps for employees' children.

Mr. Perez's challenges are several. Observers said that while Nike controls the marketplace, it must continue to fend off challenges from No. 2 Reebok and No. 3 Adidas, both of whom are becoming more aggressive, especially in the U.S. Reebok, for instance, has lucrative marketing deals with the National Football League and the National Basketball Association.

He will be expected to build growth through Nike's smaller brands, such as its acquisitions of the Bauer hockey line and Converse sneakers. And he will have to contend with the ever-present specter of improving working conditions in Nike's overseas factories.

But for now, Nike is thriving-its stock is just $2.40 off its all-time high-and Mr. Knight said that's what contributed to the timing of his resignation. "

Speculation had been rampant for some time that Mr. Knight would resign. The rumors intensified in late May when the oldest of this three children, Matthew, 34, died in a scuba-diving accident in El Salvador. "Matthew's death took a lot out of Phil, but that wasn't the reason why he decided to step down," a Nike executive said.

In this article:
Most Popular