Shoe Dog: A Memoir of the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

Summary
  1. Phil Knight recounts the formation, history, culture and vision of one of the most widely recognized brands in the world
Key Takeaways
  1. Knight ran track at Oregon and says that runners truly run because what happens when they stop scares them. Knight decided early on that he would never stop, no matter what
  2. Nike started off with running shoes and the thesis originally came to Knight while he was st Stanford business school. Japanese cameras had undercut German ones and he argued that the same may happen with American running shoes. Wanted to travel the world before chasing this business dream and had to convince his dad. His father valued being respected more than anything and thought this was the case because of his inner chaos, which came through via alcohol. Phil hated to sell and was worried about trying to convince his dad but eventually he succeeded. Knight spent months planning his world travels and invited his best friend, Carter. The plan went off the rails quickly as they decided to stay in Hawaii for several months. Carter found a girlfriend and Knight decided to later move onto his world travel plans. He headed to Japan and was heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism and focused on forgetting the self, non-linear thinking, simplicity, minimalism and being fully present
  3. Knight met with a Japanese shoe manufacturer and won their business, representing them in the Western US. He described the tension between himself and the Japanese due to remnants from WWII
  4. Our work is the holiest part of us
  5. Greece was the highlight of the trip and the image of The Temple of Nike, the goddess of victory always stood out to Knight
  6. The track coach at Oregon, Coach Bowerman, was a huge inspiration for Knight and was obsessed with shoes and continuously tried modifying, iterating and innovating them. His father and his coach were extremely stingy with praise and Knight sought their approval more than anything. Bowerman and Knight became partners in Knight’s new venture which he named Blue Ribbon. Phil got success rather quickly and though he was terrible at selling, he didn’t feel he was selling the shoes because he truly believed in them and in the good running can have on people
  7. His mother was very athletic, a trackophile, quiet but very tough and very supportive of Phil. How he describes the quiet support from his mother is beautiful and inspiring
  8. The art of competing is the art of forgetting, forgetting the pain, the competitor, the strategy, the self
  9. Bowerman was an innovator. He focused as much on rest as training, he experimented with nutrition and electrolytes (predecessor to Gatorade), tore apart shoes, tried new materials (early polyurethane) and believed everyone with a body is an athlete
  10. Was fascinated by shoguns, samurai, tycoons. Churchill, Kennedy and Tolstoy specifically
  11. Knight took a job at PwC in case Blue Ribbon didn’t work out. “My life was totally out of balance but I didn’t care. I loved it. I wanted more imbalance. Or at least a different kind. I wanted to spend every minute working at Blue Ribbon…I wanted work to be play and I wanted what everyone wants, to be me full time.”
  12. His first employee, Jeff Johnson, was selling prodigious amounts of shoes and created an office which aimed to be a runners paradise with books, comfortable seating, and inspiring images
  13. The key to negotiations is to know what you want, what you need to leave feeling whole
  14. Hired a lot of ex-runners, fanatics, whom were paid on commission. They worked like crazy because they believed in the vision
  15. Phil spends a lot of time lost in his thoughts, going down mental wormholes, trying to figure out problems, was messy, spacey, competitive, laissez fair management to the point he was unresponsive
  16. Once the business took off, Knight’s father was no longer so skeptical and in fact used him as a sounding board to hash through problems
  17. Woodell’s parents loaned $8,000, their life’s savings, to Phil when the company had liquidity problems
  18. The Japanese shoe manufacturer, Onitsuka, attempted a hostile takeover in 1971. Phil started looking for alternative manufacturers and found one in Mexico called Canada. The first shoes out of this factory were soccer cleats disguised as football cleats and was worn by Notre Dame’s QB
  19. A shoe dog is somebody who is wholly devoted to the designing, buying, making, selling of shoes
  20. Knight describes Bowerman as the Edison for shoes and athletics. There had been no true innovation in outer souls since the Great Depression but Bowerman soon came upon a rubberized and waffle-like sole which changed the industry forever
  21. Blue Ribbon had always dealt honestly with their customers and salesman to the point that when they introduced the first Nike shoe, although the quality was suspect, the salesman believed Blue Ribbon when they said it was worth trying and that they’d improve over time. They got great sales right away and shows the power of dealing honestly with stakeholders
  22. No matter the sport, no matter the endeavor, all out effort toils at people’s hearts. Was referring to Prefontaine in the American championships. The energy for ovation, passion and so forth from the crowd in this race exemplified exactly what Knight stood for and wanted his company to become. “Sports allow others to take part in and feel like they have lived at least a little in the life of others. Sports at its best allow the spirit of the fan to merge with the spirit of the athlete and this is the oneness that all great mystics discuss.”
  23. It became apparent early on that to beat our competitors it was necessary to have the best athletes wearing the Nike swoosh. They got several Blazer basketball players early on as well as college and Olympic athletes. This soon evolved and they got world famous athletes such as Steve Prefontaine and Ilie Nastase and others. It is obvious how much pride Knight takes in his products to the point that he feels like he is living vicariously through his athletes and everyone of their victories is a little bit of a Nike victory as well
  24. Nike was highly levered and had supplier issues for a long time and they soon decided that the best way to solve this issue was to work with the retailers and get a six-month commitment. This would help improve lead time and funding for operations, lowering their liquidity issues
  25. Fear of failure would never be the reason the company went under. They had every expectation to fail but this would not hamper them from acting, deciding, telling the truth or doing whatever was necessary to make Nike as successful as possible
  26. Blue Ribbon really took off once the waffle trainer was made. Another step change came when they introduced new colors and people  began seeing it as not only an exercise shoe but as an everyday shoe as well. Soon after, Blue Ribbon re-incorporated under the Nike name
  27. Everyone on the management team was a reject, a disappointment in some way and they were all trying to solve for it
  28. Rob Strasser was one of the best negotiators because he didn’t care what he said or how he said it, he was totally honest. His negotiation skills were well used when dealing with the professors who came up with the shoe air injection process
  29. They ran into issues with some of their shoe designs but customers forgave them because nobody else was trying anything new and Nike always apologized and did the right thing. Nike soon became a statement more than just a brand
  30. For a long time Knight didn’t believe in advertising as he thought a great product would speak for itself
  31. Knight and the exec team were very reluctant to go public but it soon became inevitable in order to fix their cash flow and leverage issues
  32. When all you see is problems, you’re not seeing clearly
  33. Adidas had the edge for a long time because their size allowed them to offer better deals to their professional athletes. Today, however, the tables have completely turned
  34. Amazing to hear that more than a decade after Nike was started they were one of the most successful and fastest growing sports companies but were close to bankruptcy and had a burnt out and depressed management team
  35. Nike became the first American company to do business with China in the early 1980s and ended up sponsoring the Chinese Olympic team
  36. Phil spends a lot of time talking about his family, Penny and their two sons Matthew and Travis. Matthew died young in a scuba diving accident and Phil recounts his regret of not being a better and more present father
  37. The sweat shop scandal was unjust but Nike used it as impetus to improve their factories and processes. They removed 97% of carcinogens by adapting a water based binding agent and gave it away to their competitors, eventually becoming the gold standard for factories. They also established The Girl Effect to help young women get out of poverty
What I got out of it
  1. Prime example of how a business should be thought about – it was Knight’s calling. He wanted to be a source of good, help third world countries modernize and make athletes even greater. One of the better business books and biographies I’ve read in some time