Finished reading Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, Co-founder and former CEO of Nike. Wanted to share some of my takeaways from the book.
Phil Knight is probably among the most notable and successful alums from the Stanford GSB. In fact our campus is named after him after he made a whopping $400M donation to Stanford – one of the largest ever to a university by an individual.His name was always present, and of course so was Nike as a brand, but I had never had a chance to learn the story of Nike, his story.
The book itself I recommend highly. It’s an easy read of 400 pages, or ~13 hours of audio material if you are the Audible-type of person. Once again, given how neatly it was written and narrated, I was able to rush through it at 1.75x speed. Only when the author shares numbers, I need to stop and slow down the speed to catch what’s being said.
The story of Nike is amazing because it all started with a shoe distribution business. In 1962, at the tender age of 24, Phil had the idea of importing Japanese shoes to the US. He had seen in other industries how Japanese quality had overtaken US product quality, and he was keen on exploring the same for shoes. As an avid runner, he was a shoe dog. So he flew to Japan, found a manufacturer and started importing their shoes.
The business grew over the years. Surprisingly, he didn’t throw himself at it full-time. He was working for Price Waterhouse Coopers on the side as an accountant, until the business reached a size and workload that he couldn’t ignore anymore.
Hearing his story, I found it amazing how easygoing he was. Most of his MBA classmates went on to embark on their corporate careers, but he bounced around between his shoe distribution business and an accountant job so he could actually pay the bills. Nowadays entrepreneurship is so highly glorified, but back then people looked down on someone who wasn’t in a stable job. And I don’t think he really cared.
As the business grew, so did his problems. The manufacturer dropped them at some point, and he had to come up with his own line of shoes. That’s how Nike was born, in 1972, 10 years after starting the shoe distribution company Blue Ribbon. And so he went on, staying on as CEO for a total of 52 years – until he stepped down in 2016.
What shocked me right from the beginning was that early on – it must have been 1964 or something – he signed his former college track coach as a partner, with 50% of equity. And it’s not that the trainer was equally involved that would justify a 50% share. But over the years that trainer turned out to be indispensable as he helped craft new design and come up with new innovations. Still, it was surprising for me to see how quickly Phil Knight brought on a partner – at a time where the value of such person wasn’t very obvious, at least not to me.
The one thing I loved about the Nike story is how it all started, and how slowly, incrementally, but also steadily the business grew. A shoe distributor growing into a shoe creator. A shoe creator turning into the Nike brand. The Nike brand turning into this global, cutting-edge fitness apparel company. Step by step a small distributor in Oregon morphed into something that is now worn all around the world.
It showed once again how far you can get if you work really hard, really dedicatedly on something. If you are a little crazy, a little lucky, but most of all, if you believe in what you do. It was a very inspiring story, one that makes you want to dream about entrepreneurship and building an empire of your own.