In this candid and riveting memoir, for the first time ever, Nike founder and board chairman Phil Knight shares the inside story of the company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands. Young, searching, fresh out of business school, Phil Knight borrowed fifty dollars from his father and launched a company with one simple mission: import high-quality, low-cost running shoes from Japan. Selling the shoes from the trunk of his Plymouth Valiant, Knight grossed eight thousand dollars that first year, 1963. Today, Nike’s annual sales top USD 30 billion. In this age of start-ups, Knight’s Nike is the gold standard, and its swoosh is more than a logo. A symbol of grace and greatness, it’s one of the few icons instantly recognised in every corner of the world.
But Knight, the man behind the swoosh, has always been a mystery. Now, in a memoir that’s surprising, humble, unfiltered, funny, and beautifully crafted, he tells his story at last. It all begins with a classic crossroads moment. Twenty-four years old, backpacking through Asia and Europe and Africa, wrestling with life’s Great Questions, Knight decides the unconventional path is the only one for him. Rather than work for a big corporation, he will create something all his own, something new, dynamic, different. Knight details the many terrifying risks he encountered along the way, the crushing setbacks, the ruthless competitors, the countless doubters and haters and hostile bankers—as well as his many thrilling triumphs and narrow escapes. Above all, he recalls the foundational relationships that formed the heart and soul of Nike, with his former track coach, the irascible and charismatic Bill Bowerman, and with his first employees, a ragtag group of misfits and savants who quickly became a band of swoosh-crazed brothers.
Seek a Calling
"Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be few, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt."
Throughout Shoe Dog, Phil Knight talks about what Nike really is. It’s a way of life. It stands for more than just shoes and apparel. It’s competing, it’s striving to achieve, it’s victory. This idea of seeking a calling was what pushed Phil and his team to challenge, to persevere and not give up. It was always about striving to be better, to compete harder against the competition and to do what others said they couldn’t.
Practice, Prepare and Execute
"So Hayes and I spent days role-playing, polishing our arguments and counterarguments, anticipating what objections Strasser might raise." Throughout the first years of Nike, so much of their success was attributed to Phil and his core team just “figuring it out”. From financing loans, the logistics of shipping shoes, manufacturing shoes, doing business internationally, navigating politics, etc. It was pretty insane. Though most of these early Nike employees were extremely smart, they didn’t really have the background required for the job at the time. Throughout the book, there is something that keeps coming up over and over again. It is how much these guys, practiced, prepared, role played, read, and networked with other professionals to prepare themselves to handle these tough situations and get the results that they were after. They acquired those skills and capabilities and figured it out along the way. It just goes to show how important practice and preparation are for all those who are successful, and Phil Knight and his team are no different!
Surround Yourself with the Right People
"Around the close of 1972 each man handed his house keys to the other, and now in early 1973 they switched places. Talk about team players."
Nike grew its employee count early on because of Phil Knight’s network. It was a common for him to hire former track athletes (like him), Oregon Alumnus (like him), friends of friends, family of friends, etc. This caused Nike to really be this big family that was so closely interconnected.
Each of them were team players, trusting, stubborn, autonomous, and go-getters. Not only was Phil able to recruit this special mix of people into his young company, he built a culture that enabled them to grow, learn and find success in whatever way that worked for them. Phil Knight and Nike would not have gotten past those first couple of years without his great team. Which goes back to the lesson of how important it is to find and work with people that you like and that bring out the best in you.
It’s hard to imagine the world without Nike today. It’s had such an impact on fashion, athletics and our culture as a whole. You see the “swoosh” everywhere! This memoir by Phil Knight is an incredible look into the company’s history and gives us a pretty clear picture of how such a ginormous company started from such humble beginnings with a simple, “crazy” vision.
What Phil Knight ultimately achieved was something that was more than a company. It is a way of life. Nike stands for more than just its shoes and apparel. Its slogan, “Just Do It” is a mindset, a mantra and a way of life for some people.
Compiled by Nabin Shrestha, Brand Consulting and Design, water-comm.com