“The art of competing, I’d learned from track, was the art of forgetting, and I now reminded myself of that fact. You must forget your limits. You must forget your doubts, your pain, your past. You must forget that internal voice screaming, begging, “Not one more step!” And when it’s not possible to forget it, you must negotiate with it.” – Phil Knight
I’m interested in running a business someday and as a result, I want to read the success stories of various business leaders. Shoe Dog is the story of Phil Knight, the founder of NIKE. NIKE is an iconic athletic brand and has been for the past 30+ years. The company wasn’t always the behemoth it is today, it took 10-15 years of successes, struggles, losses, and learning experiences, until they were well on their way. Knight writes about his thoughts and feelings throughout the process of building the NIKE brand.
Shoe Dog starts out in 1962: Knight has just finished a yearlong stint with the Army, has already received an accounting degree from Oregon, and an MBA from Stanford, but does not know what he wants in life. Knight ran track at Oregon in college and still loves running. Then, at Stanford, he had an idea to distribute shoes made in Japan in the United States. He believed there was huge potential.
However, before exploring this idea, Knight wanted to travel the world. From Oregon, he goes west on a year long trip. During his second stop, in Japan, he secures the rights to distribute Onitsuka Tiger shoes. With $50 of his dad’s money, he purchases some samples. Then, for the next year, he travels the world, spending time in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Knight doesn’t know what he wants in life, but wanted to experience something different and gain a better perspective on the world.
Once arriving home, he goes to work selling the $50 worth of shoes (They were a lot cheaper back in the 60’s), and finds he is able to do so very easily. Next, he is back to Japan at the Onitsuka Headquarters and wants to order $1,000 in shoes. Needing money, Knight borrows $500 from his dad and gets $500 from his college track and field coach, Bill Bowerman. Bill Bowerman, legendary track and field coach who was the head coach of the 1976 Olympic Track and Field team was originally 49% owner of the company “Blue Ribbon”. Blue Ribbon continued to grow as Knight would borrow the maximum he could from the bank, order new Tiger shoes, and then sell them out.
In the following chapters, I continued to learn about Blue Ribbon and how it became NIKE. I learned how Knight had to figure out how to navigate a situation with the U.S. Government; how Knight had to deal with his employees, bankers, Japanese trading companies, doubters, and other shoe companies. I learned how a group of runners, accountants, and misfits grew Blue Ribbon into NIKE and subsequently into the behemoth company it is today.
One thing I really enjoyed in the book is I feel Knight and I share some similarities in our personalities. Both of us are analytic, not sales oriented, but both want to help others achieve their goals and dreams. One of Knight’s management strategies is having a hands off approach; by being hands off, he allows his employees the freedom to innovate and do what they want. By hiring talented individuals and letting those talented individuals run loose, he was able to have an army of loyal, smart, and innovative individuals who all lived and breathed the Oregonian culture of NIKE.
As I was drawn into the book more and more, I began to think that if Knight was 24 when he started his company, then anything is possible now for me. Now I just need to start producing ideas on what I can do to become more valuable to others!
Here are some quotes, notes, and other thoughts I have after reading Shoe Dog:
- Hire accountants to run your business, but do not put them in charge of doing creative things.
- “… all I know is if I go out and bust my guy until I black out and somebody still beats me, and if I have made that guy reach down and use everything he has and then more, why then it just proves that on that day he’s a better man than I.” – Steve Prefontaine
- Supply and demand is always the root problem in business.
- “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”
- “You measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you.”
- “It’s never just business. It never will be. If it ever does become just business, that will mean that business is very bad.”
- “… that’s the nature of money. Whether you have it or not, whether you want it or not, whether you like it or not, it will try to define your days. Our task as human beings is not to let it.”
- “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 fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.”
“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 fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.” – Phil Knight
Like I said above, I’m interested in becoming a business owner or running a business. Shoe Dog got the wheels spinning inside my head. What kind of product could I come up with which would combine my passions of helping others, learning, or exercise? I’m going to be thinking about this for the coming days and weeks so I can get the ball rolling.
Shoe Dog is inspiring, full of history and facts, and a great read for entrepreneurs. Even though NIKE went public in the late 1970’s, there are many parallels we can draw to today’s international business environment. I recommend Shoe Dog to any aspiring business owners, entrepreneurs, and athletes who want to learn about NIKE and the history of their business.
Do you enjoy reading autobiographies or biographies? What successful people do you want to learn about? What products would be beneficial to your training (that I could invent or sell :))?