Shoe Dog is the memoir of Nike’s founder and former CEO Phil Knight. From his early beginnings as a limited but enthusiastic student athlete with an idea about selling Japanese trainers, Knight recounts Nike’s emergence as the leading global sportswear brand, a journey filled with success, failure and powerful insights into what it takes to build a successful business.
Summary of main ideas
In many ways, Shoe Dog is a typical biography in the sense that Knight takes the reader on a chronological journey through his life.
Phil Knight was born in 1938 and grew up in Portland. He developed a love for athletics, competing as a middle-distance runner for the University of Oregan. While still a student, he wrote a paper on a potential business opportunity for selling Japanese shoes in the United States, having witnessed the impact of Japanese cars on the American automotive industry.
After college, while traveling around the world, Knight decided on an impulse to set up a meeting with a shoe manufacturing company called Onitsuka when he visited Japan. Believing he represented an established American company, the Japanese agreed to the meeting and agreed to let Knight distribute their shoes in America as they were keen to enter the market.
From placing his first order for a few thousand pairs of shoes, Knight’s company - originally called Blue Ribbon - grew into what became Nike.
However, the journey was rarely plain sailing. Knight describes how he leaned on the support of his running coach and eventual business partner Bill Bowerman as the company struggled early on to develop running shoes that were better than their competitors'. Problems arose as these competitors searched for ways to eliminate this young rival, even resorting to using the US Government as an almost insurmountable obstacle.
As Nike grew into a global powerhouse, the challenges remained in different forms. Knight describes some of the key milestones in the company’s early history, from struggling to get enough credit to grow the company to the thinking behind the famous deal to sign basketball legend Michael Jordan in 1984 as well as the story behind the creation of the famous Nike logo.
But Shoe Dog is more than just a typical biography. Several themes emerge throughout the book that serve as valuable insights into how to run a business and build your life around a passion.
Throw yourself in at the deep end Knight started as he meant to go on when he walked into that first meeting in Japan. He wasn’t ready but he saw an opportunity and made it work. He took this attitude and applied it to building his company, always finding a way to overcome the many significant obstacles in his way.
Find great people and then leave them alone to do great things In Knight’s own words: “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”
Perseverance is incredibly powerful Another quote from the book: “So that morning in 1962 I told myself: 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.”
Build and maintain great relationships The importance Knight places on relationships with his colleagues as well as the many sports stars affiliated with Nike is apparent throughout Shoe Dog. Having remained friends with almost everyone who helped him start the business, he is at pains to demonstrate the importance the contributions of others had in the growth of Nike, a direct consequence of his emphasis on treating people well.
"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."
How this book can help you
Shoe Dog surprised me because I was expecting an interesting story about Nike but the book turned out to be much more than that. For a start, it was enjoyable to read thanks to Phil Knight’s entertaining and humble storytelling style.
This is certainly a particularly relevant book for business leaders and aspiring entrepreneurs. I would go further to suggest that anyone aiming to improve their career or find a way to turn their passion into their daily life will benefit from reading this. Especially in relation to the bravery and (some might say) cheek that Knight showed when getting his business off the ground by arranging a meeting that he was not qualified for. He saw an opportunity, made something out of it and then became increasingly successful by sheer force of will.
I wish this book had existed twenty years ago!
Some good further reading/watching/listening
Watch Phil Knight’s Stanford Graduate School of Business Graduation Remarks from 2014.
Where to get it
About the author
Phil Knight was born in 1938 and grew up in Portland. He founded a shoe company called Blue Ribbon in 1962, later changing the name to Nike. With Knight as CEO and Chairman, Nike grew to become the world's largest supplier of athletic shoes and apparel, making him a billionaire in the process. He published his memoir Shoe Dog in 2016.
Simon & Schuster
April 26, 2016
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