Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE – Phil Knight

I thought back on my running career at Oregon. I’d competed with, and against, men far better, faster, more physically gifted. Many were future Olympians. And yet I’d trained myself to forget this unhappy fact. People reflexively assume that competition is always a good thing, that it always brings out the best in people, but that’s only true of people who can forget the competition. The art of competing, I’d learned from track, was the art of forgetting, and I now reminded myself of that fact. You must forget your limits. You must forget your doubts, your pain, your past.

The book is a candid memoir by the founder of Nike, the sports shoes and apparel company. It starts with his travel around the world as a young graduate and concludes when the company was made public in the 1980s. The book presents in great detail the beginnings of now the largest sports company in the world.

This is indeed a great memoir, well-written, full of details and easy to follow. Apparently, JR Moehringer helped as ghostwriter. No wonder it was a best-seller, particularly because the owner of Nike never liked being in the spotlight.

Phil Knight starts his story when, as a young graduate of Stanford Business School, prepares to leave for a world voyage. The trip is hiding a business purpose as well, as he intends pass through Japan and propose selling rights in US from a Japanese manufacturer of sports shoes. This idea came from a university seminar.

His proposal succeeds and Knight gradually increases sales, while working as professor and later accountant. Being ditched by the Japanese manufacturer he is forced to produce his own shoes. And this is how Nike was created. The company always had financial problems, banks abandon him twice, legal challenges almost topple the company, he fights with US customs, but through sheer passion for the product and loyalty of men and women around him, the company succeeds.

It was amazing to see how much of a team work it was. The founder did not create the shoes, the clothes, the design, not even the name. All he did do very well was putting the right people in the right jobs and ensure loyalty of his employees.

As he often quotes in the book: “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” A shy person, he prefers to be a strategist than a general, although his idol is American General Douglas MacArthur.

Phil Knight talks about his family as well, his wife and sons, his parents and sisters. He talks fondly about his wife and her sacrifice to let him work long hours. He regrets not staying longer with his sons. He recalls his daily evening calls with his father, talking business and how to fight the legal challenges.

Overall, a great book from a shy man who built a sports empire and made the world a little better.

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