How some of the world’s most successful businesses started

From Nike and Adidas to Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, SUBWAY and Ben & Jerry’s…

In 1964 University of Oregon athlete Phil Knight and his coach Bill Bowerman started Blue Ribbon Sports as a distributor for Japanese shoemaker Onitsuka Tiger, with sales made at track meetings from Knight’s car.

Just do it 

Business was encouraging that first year, with turnover of $8,000 from 1,300 pairs sold. In 1965 the company grossed $20,000 and a year later in Santa Monica it opened its first store. In 1971, the business was renamed Nike (”Ny-kee”, after the Greek goddess of victory) by the business’s first employee Jeff Johnson and launched its own footwear, bearing the now globally famous swoosh motif, designed by student Carolyn Davidson, who charged just $35.

By 1980 Nike had won a 50 per cent share of the US athletic shoe market. Headquartered in Washington County, Oregon, in 2014 Nike employed approximately 56,500 people and operated more than 850 retail stores worldwide, with global revenue amounting to some $27.8bn (£18.3bn).

Drei Streifen 

In the early 1920s Adolf Dassler began producing sports shoes from his parents’ house in Bavaria. In 1924 his brother Rudolf joined the business, which became Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik. During power shortages, the brothers had to use pedal power to keep machinery running.

Soon, top athletes were wearing the Dasslers’ running shoes, including the iconic Jesse Owens, winner of four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Shortly before WW2 the Dasslers were selling more than 200,000 pairs of sports shoes a year.

The brothers had a major falling out, which led 49-year-old ‘Adi’ to set up Adidas on 18 August 1949 and register a shoe bearing the famous Drei Streifen (three stripes). Rudolf had already set up Puma (its sales in 2014 were €2,972m).

Adidas Group sales in 2014 totalled €14.8bn (£10.7bn). The Group includes Reebok(founded as the JW Foster and Sons shoe company in 1895 in Bolton) while also owning 8.3 per cent of Bundesliga superstars FC Bayern Munich.

Caramel-coloured liquid 

In 1886, as the Statue of Liberty was being constructed, Atlanta pharmacist John S Pemberton “stirred up a fragrant, caramel-coloured liquid”. He took it to the nearby Jacobs’ Pharmacy, where it was mixed with carbonated water. Customers really liked the new drink, so Jacobs’ Pharmacy sold it for five cents a glass.

Frank Robinson, Pemberton’s bookkeeper, named the mixture Coca-Cola and wrote it out in his distinctive handwriting, which remains today as one of the world’s most recognised logos.

There are now 1.9bn servings of Coca-Cola Company products sold every day. Coca-Cola made total global revenue of $8,264m in 2014, with a gross profit of $2,973m.

Food for thought 

In 1940 Dick and Mac McDonald opened their McDonald’s Bar-B-Q restaurant in San Bernadino, California. Now, McDonald’s meals and drinks are available from 36,000 locations worldwide, eaten by 69m customers in more than 100 countries every day (source: McDonald’s).

In Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1965, 17-year-old high school graduate Fred DeLuca was looking for a way to pay his university tuition fees. At a BBQ his friend Dr Peter Buck suggested opening a submarine sandwich shop similar to one he had seen and kindly stumped up $1,000 to help start the business. Pete’s Super Submarines opened in August 1965 and more outlets followed. The business was renamed SUBWAY® in 1968. There are now more than 37,000 SUBWAY® stores in 100 countries, all independently owned and operated by franchisees.

Cream rises 

Having taken a “$5 correspondence course in ice cream making from Penn State” and with $12,000 investment (”$4,000 of it borrowed”), childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened their first ice cream shop in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont in 1978. Previously, they’d briefly considered starting a bagel business.

In 1980 they started selling pints of ice cream to grocery stores and restaurants from the back of Cohen’s old VW Squareback wagon. This transformed the business. A wholly owned subsidiary of Unilever since 2000, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is now available in 33 countries. Always a company willing to try new things, Ben & Jerry’s launched a range of vegan ice creams in 2016, available in a range of flavours.

• This blog appeared originally appeared on the HSBC Knowledge Centre website and was commissioned by Atom Content Marketing.