By Sara Germano
Phil Knight, the founder and chairman of Nike Inc., has pledged $400 million to Stanford University, one of the largest philanthropic gifts to a university and the latest move by the billionaire to solidify his legacy beyond sportswear.
The gift will provide the foundation for the Knight-Hennessy Scholars, a graduate-level program named for the Nike founder as well as outgoing Stanford president John Hennessy. The program will offer full tuition and living expenses to 100 students annually, beginning with the 2018-2019 academic year, according to the university.
The program's total endowment stands at $750 million, of which Mr. Knight's gift represents the largest single donation to Stanford, according to the school. It matches the $400 million gift that hedge-fund manager John Paulson made to Harvard University last year.
Mr. Knight, who turns 78 on Wednesday, is one of Nike's largest shareholders, and Forbes estimates his net worth at $25.1 billion. He is an alumnus of Stanford's graduate school of business and has a long tradition of supporting the Palo Alto, Calif., school. Mr. Knight donated $105 million to Stanford's business school in 2006 toward the construction of a new campus.
Mr. Knight has pledged hundreds of millions to his undergraduate alma mater, the University of Oregon, including a $100 million gift to the school's athletic fund in 2007. More recently, he and his wife, Penny, have pledged to fund the cost of a forthcoming sport science center at the Eugene, Ore., school, to be named for the Heisman trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota.
People who have worked with Mr. Knight have said he holds special fondness for his years at both institutions. Nike's sprawling corporate headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., was constructed and designed to mimic a college campus, and in particular, Stanford, according to architect Robert Thompson. In 2006, he returned to Stanford to take part in writing seminars at the school.
In recent years, Mr. Knight has been making efforts to shore up his legacy, both at Nike and beyond. Last summer, he announced plans to step down as chairman from the company and tapped his son, filmmaker Travis Knight, to be added to Nike's board.
In June, the Oregon Health & Science University announced Mr. and Mrs. Knight had committed $500 million toward the creation of a cancer research program at the hospital, matching an additional $500 million in funds raised for the program.
Corrections & Amplifications
This item was corrected 11:14 a.m. ET because it incorrectly said Henry Paulson, instead of hedge-fund manager John Paulson. Also, Forbes estimates Mr. Knight's net worth at $25.1 billion, not Fortune.