Shoe Dog is the memoir of Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, which tells the story of how he went from selling shoes from the back of his car to creating one of the world’s largest companies in a humble, witty and entertaining way.
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
Phil Knight has always been something of a mystery, preferring to keep a low profile despite being one of the world’s wealthiest men so this book was understandably an instant bestseller when first published.
Starting with his graduation from business school where he had a crazy idea to import running shoes from Japan, the story moves quickly from travelling around the world to taking his first steps in business with detailed insight into the ups and downs of the business as it struggled to cope with breakneck growth throughout the decades.
Below are some of the key insights I took from this book:
- At 24 Phil Knight hadn’t achieved much but he had decided that historical progress depends on following through with crazy ideas.
- Instead of travelling to Japan alone, Phil decided to take a round the world trip to visit all the places he has always wanted to go across Asia and Europe.
- Without a company, Knight agreed a deal to become a west coast importer for Tiger Shoes of Japan using the name Blue Ribbon Sports.
- On return from his travels, he then began to sell through each shipment from his parents house by going directly to running meets.
- Each time he needed to order more, the bank would restrict credit despite a constant 50% sales increase each year.
- Knight partnered with his old running coach Bill Bowerman early on who was to prove instrumental to the success of the company throughout.
- Knight hired Jeff Johnson by setting him an unrealistic target of 3250 pairs sold that he managed to hit by consummate salesmanship and a basic CRM card index.
- Taking the opportunity to teach accounting at a local college, Knight picked out his future wife Penelope who became a constant companion.
- As the company grew, Knight had to fly out to Japan to restate his case to be a sole distributor in 13 states convincing the owner of the business to renew his contract for a longer period than before.
- Despite continued growth, the bank restricted credit at $1m which presented an existential threat to the business.
- Tiger also wanted to cut out their distributor forcing Blue Ribbon to create the Nike brand as a side line using different factories.
- After a legal battle ensued, Nike was able to restructure its business around their own brand and benefit from improved designs and a growing interest in jogging.
- Throughout the growth of the company, they struggled for cash flow but delayed taking an IPO until the latest possible moment.
- The culture of the company was very much non-corporate and surprisingly non-athletic outside of Phil Knight, Bill Bowerman and Jeff Johnson.
- Key players such as Woodell and Johnson had to be reshuffled at various pressure points to ensure that manufacturing and distribution kept pace with supply.
- Nike’s early forays into sponsorship were actually pretty amateurish but nevertheless became a hugely important part of the business later down the line.
- Nike’s entry into apparel was also a late stage choice in order to compete with Adidas which had long been the industry’s overwhelming giant.
- Nike benefited from the casualisation of sports trainers by adapting their best selling Cortez style with new colours to complement jeans.
- Innovations such as Nike Air Soles started out as obscure ideas whereas Air Jordans capitalised on early stage sponsorship of emerging athletes.
- The legacy of Nike can be seen at Beaverton, Oregon where major streets are named after key employees and the company’s global team of over 70,000 work to ensure that the company remains at the forefront of the sporting world.
- Despite his success in business, Phil Knight suffered heartbreak when his eldest son died in a scuba diving accident.
- As a result of his low profile, Knight is also much less recognisable then his billionaire peers such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.