From Blue Ribbon Sports to Nike
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
I’m addicted to sneakers. So, choosing to read this book that combines business and sneakers is a no-brainer for me. It was also one of the best books that Bill Gates had read in 2016.
Shoe Dog: a memoir by the creator of Nike is an autobiography by the founder of Nike, Phil Knight. He was born in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A in February 1938. In the 1960’s he came up with a crazy idea to import Japanese running shoes to the United States. The idea came from him seeing Japanese cameras being popular in the States, so he thought, why not shoes? In November 1962, after graduating from Stanford, he went for a trip around the world, one stop being Kobe, Japan where he met with the owner of Onitsuka Tiger, a shoe manufacture company. He left the meeting with distribution rights for the western United States. Blue Ribbon Sports was born. He then went back to the US and partnered with his former running coach Bill Bowerman.
During the next few years, Phil Knight, Bill Bowerman, and Jeff Johnson, the first official employee of Nike, continuously sold more shoes, while Bowerman was also attending running competitions tracking the performance of the athletes and of course the shoes, even in the 1964 Olympics in Japan. Blue Ribbon Sports was growing steadily. Knight started working as an accountant at Price Waterhouse, while running Blue Ribbon Sports during the early mornings, late nights, and weekends plus vacations.
In 1966, Johnson fell asleep while driving, shattering his collarbone, foot, and skull when he crashed. Knight wrote him a letter and closed it by telling Johnson if he sold 3,250 pairs of Tigers by the end of June 1966, Blue Ribbon Sports would open their first retail store in the West Coast where Johnson was located. September 1966, 3107 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica, the first retail store of Nike was opened.
1967, Phil Knight quit his job as an accountant and started as an assistant professor in Portland State University, teaching accounting. In his first class, there was a striking young woman in the front row with golden long hair and matching golden hoop earrings. Her name was Penelope Parks. After recording the highest grade in the class on the midterm, Knight offered her a job as a bookkeeping assistant at Blue Ribbon. A few months go by and he gathers the courage to ask her out for a date. They were married in September 1968.
In 1971, Blue Ribbon Sports was in a lot of trouble. They had a lot of assets but lacked cash and couldn’t pay for the incoming shipment of shoes worth $22,000. Blue Ribbon Sports also needed a logo for their new soccer shoes. Carolyn Davidson was a young artist who Phil had met at Portland State University and who had done a few ad slicks and brochures for Blue Ribbon Sports designed the famous Swoosh-logo for Blue Ribbon Sports for $35. Initially Knight didn’t even like the logo, “It’ll have to do” he said. The decision to call the company Nike, happened during the same year. A few years after Nike’s Initial Public Offering (IPO), in 1983 Davidson was given 500 shares for her input. The current value of those shares is around $2,9 million. In 2011 she hadn’t sold any of the shares according to the media.
Skip forward to this day, you can see Nike shoes wherever you go. The book is a refreshing reminder of what the path to success really looks like. Hard work, long hours, a lot of stress, personal life struggles, never-ending debts, issues with suppliers. Shoe Dog: Brutally honest tale of how Nike grew from a crazy idea to the largest supplier of athletic shoes and apparel.
The whole book is a story of going all in and not giving in. Phil understood that starting the business was risky, but he dived right in. He also emphasized that founding and managing Nike was not a career for him, it was his calling. “I’d tell men and women in their mid-twenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling.”
I would’ve though wanted to read about the manufacturing of a shoe and the technicalities behind creating a shoe from scratch. The book focuses mostly on business and personal life, leaving the tech-savvy hanging. But I understand Knight’s point. The whole idea of the book is to tell his story as honestly as he can, not to teach the reader.
Shoe Dog: a memoir by the creator of Nike, is one of the best business books I’ve read. Not because of the checklists, hints and tips it gives out to readers, quite on the contrary. The honesty, failures, mistakes. They make Shoe Dog humane and relatable. Knight also underlines the importance of luck. It’s not 100% hard work, there has to be a certain amount of luck to be successful. Even though the journey was tough, the next quote from the book tells everything necessary. “God, how I wish I could relive the whole thing.”
Knight, P. H. (2016). Shoe dog: a memoir by the creator of Nike. New York: Scribner.