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Inside The Coup At Nike

Founder Phil Knight is a case study of the charismatic leader who can't let go. Ex-CEO William Perez, his latest casualty, learned that the hard way

From the time Nike founder and Chairman Philip H. Knight anointed William D. Perez as his successor in November, 2004, the two men had a regularly scheduled meeting on Monday mornings at 9. The get-togethers had been Knight's idea. They gave CEO Perez, a surprise choice who had previously held the top post at S.C. Johnson & Son Inc., the manufacturer of Glade air fresheners and Drano, an informal forum for bouncing ideas off the legendary figure who all but personified the company.

When Knight took a seat at the round conference table in Perez' office on Jan. 9, it seemed like any other mundane Monday meeting. The discussion methodically progressed through several unremarkable issues, Perez says. But Knight was saving a bombshell for last. Abruptly declaring that Perez had failed to mesh with the rest of the Nike team, Knight told him it was time to go. Perez was stunned. "He caught me off guard," he said in an extensive interview with BusinessWeek. Knight declined to comment on the details of Perez's account. "I and the Board decided that the company could be better managed with a proven, seasoned industry veteran," he said.