A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
If you’ve set your mind on becoming an entrepreneur, Phil Hampson Knight is a name you should probably know by now. After all, in terms of net worth, he’s not that far from Zuckerberg, or Brin and Page! In fact, he’s the 28th richest person in the world!
And if that’s not enough, there’s a big chance that you’ll wear his snickers later tonight.
Of course, we’re talking about Nike’s co-founder.
In his own words.
Summarized, to be fair.
Who Should Read “Shoe Dog”? And Why?
As its subtitle so succinctly states, “Shoe Dog” is a memoir written by the creator of “Nike” himself. And if that’s not an advertisement enough, the book is also a “New York Times” bestseller.
All in all, a must-read for anyone who is interested to master the world of business, or to read another old-fashioned rags to riches story. (Or, if you allow, a quite modern “from $50 to $29.1B tale.”)
Two things to be wary of, though. First of all, the book is not exactly a book brimming with practical advices. And secondly, it’s much more personal than you would expect, mainly dealing with the early part of Phil Knight’s career.
But, ultimately, whether you’re launching a business or daydreaming about it, there’s something for everyone in here.
About Phil Knight
Phil Knight is the co-founder of Nike, Inc., the world’s largest athletic shoes supplier.
He acted as the company’s CEO for four decades between 1964 and 2004, serving as board chairman until 2016. He is the current Chairman Emeritus of Nike, and an owner of the stop-motion animation studio, Laika.
In addition, he’s Oregon’s most generous philanthropist in history, donating over $2 billion for his hometown.
“Shoe Dog Summary”
This is a book of memories.
And, as it usually happens with them due to our faltering memory, they are not exactly structured or consequential. Writing them on paper does help, but Knight doesn’t make it easy for his readers, expecting them to know everything he does at all times.
Even more: supposing they’ll be able to remember all of the names and their noteworthiness when they appear 50 or so pages later.
But, a summary is a summary for a reason. So, let’s extract only the main parts of Phil Knight’s 1962-1980 biography. More or less, that makes his memoir a story of one name, two companies, and three people.
It’s 1962 and Phil Knight is on an after-graduation around-the-world trip. In November 1962, he visits the Onitsuka Company in Kobe, Japan. Fascinated by the quality of their shoes and, moreover, their affordability, he arranges a meeting with Onitsuka’s executives.
He tells them that he’s a representative of Blue Ribbon Sports and that he’s interested in buying the exclusive rights for distribution of Onitsuka’s Tiger shoes in western US.
But, what he doesn’t tell them is the more interesting part and the stuff entrepreneur’s dreams are made of.
You see, Blue Ribbon Sports is not exactly a company. It’s a business operated by Knight in his parents’ house. And he’s not exactly a representative: he is, basically, the company. Many years before “Pre-Suasion,” Knight pulls a trick out of Robert Cialdini’s books on influence. And he does a heck of a good job!
The first two pairs of Onitsuka Tiger shoes are mailed by Knight to Bill Bowerman in an attempt to get an endorsement. He is the second most important person in our story, a legendary track and field coach at the University of Oregon and trainer of more than 50 Olympians.
He is, also, the co-founder of Nike, Inc.
Because, once he receives the shoe samples Bowerman doesn’t merely want to endorse them – he wants to take a part in selling them!
Soon, business is blooming and Onitsuka Tiger stops looking at Blue Ribbon Sports as an ally, but as a competitor. Cue the long legal struggles, and Knight’s and Bowerman’s attempt at Plan B: if they can’t distribute high-quality low-cost athletic shoes, why shouldn’t they create them themselves?
Fortunately, Plan B turns out to be even better plan than Plan A. And it is all due to Knight’s entrepreneurship skills, and Bowerman’s innovator’s brain. Have you ever heard of the “Waffle Sole”? Well, Bowerman invented it.
And that’s how “Nike” was born.
Oh… we’re running ahead of ourselves.
That’s how a pair of great nameless shoes was designed. But, in order to be registered at the U.S. Patent Office, it had to have a name. It came into a dream of the first Blue Ribbon employee, Jeff Johnson, a day before the paperwork was filed.
And it sure trumped what Knight and Bowerman had come up with: Falconbengaldimensionsix. (OK, that’s few names jumbled into one, but you know how it is few hours before a deadline…)
And that’s where the third person enters the story: Steve Prefontaine. A runner and a superstar. The second athlete to endorse Nike – after Romanian tennis great Ilia Năstase – and the first American to do so.
His story is remarkable in itself and we strongly advise you to read it. In the context of Nike, Prefontaine will always be remembered as the man who paved the way for, say, the Air Jordans.
And the man who started a long list of Nike sponsorships.
You know, the thing that led to you buying that now coveted pair of Nikes.
Key Lessons from “Shoe Dog”
1. “Ask, and It Shall Be Given You; Seek, and Ye Shall Find”
2. Be as Zen as You Can Be…
3. …And Never Quit
“Ask, and It Shall Be Given You; Seek, and Ye Shall Find”
Sure, the verse comes straight from the “New Testament,” but it’s also a sentence in any entrepreneur’s book! And Knight is no exception.
When he saw an opportunity with the Onitsuka Tiger shoes, he didn’t want to wait. He went there fearless, as a representative of a one-man company. It didn’t matter that Onitsuka was one of the oldest Japanese shoes factories.
It mattered that Knight wanted to create a future sports giant.
And he did.
Be as Zen as You Can Be…
When it comes to Knight’s personal philosophy, he’s an ardent believer in the power of Zen Buddhism. He has used it to overcome many obstacles and achieve his career goals. He firmly believes that his ego is his enemy, and he has often tried to do away with it in order to make better decision.
Knight claims that these tactics have worked for him every time. And there’s no reason why you shouldn’t believe him.
…And Keep Running
Winston Churchill once said: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Phil Knight thinks the very same. His words are somewhat different (read them in the “Quotes” section), but the moral is the same.
In his opinion, this is not only a good advice. It’s the best advice you can get.
And the only advice you really need.
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“Shoe Dog” QuotesIn the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. (epigraph, via Shunryu Suzuki) Click To Tweet Let everyone else call your idea crazy... just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where ‘there’ is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop. Click To Tweet I’d like to share the experience, the ups and downs, so that some young man or woman, somewhere, going through the same trials and ordeals, might be inspired or comforted. Or warned. Click To Tweet The harder you work, the better your Tao. Click To Tweet Have faith in yourself, but also have faith in faith. Not faith as others define it. Faith as you define it. Faith as faith defines itself in your heart. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
“Shoe Dog” is not exactly what you would expect from a book written by the most powerful person in the athletic shoe business. There’s neither flash nor tingles, neither overblown claims nor a juicy detail or two. So, if you’re looking for Super Bowl parties, or MJ contract stipulations – do yourself a favor, and look elsewhere.
But, if you’re looking for a more personal insight in the mind workings of a business magnate, you will probably find just about enough here. After all, Bill Gates endorses it! The book is divided into, more or less, standalone chapters detailing each year between 1962 and 1980, so you don’t even need to read the whole book – just the years of your own choosing.
Whether Knight plans a second part of his autobiography, dealing with the more extravagant part of his legacy is not known at the moment. If he does, we ‘re guessing that the book will be an instant bestseller.
This one, for better or for worse, offers just a peak inside the life of a remarkable, but, even after this book, still somewhat enigmatic kahuna.