SHOE DOG: A memoir by the creator of Nike (Phil Knight, 2016, 386 pages)

Front page of book Shoe Dog (Phil Knight)

“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


Pros: from my point of view a sincere autobiography, acknowledging some of his personal misdoings and defects; show that you have to keep trying to achieve what you want.

Cons: stops in 1980; it could go deeper on his relationships with other sport personalities, as they are just mentioned at the end of the book; not so much a sports book as a business book.

The book is an autobiography of Phil Knight, the man who created Nike. It goes from 1962 to 1980, the period going from the conception of his “crazy” business idea, to the time when Nike is already a successful sports company.

The book starts in 1962, with Phil, 24, just graduated from his Business studies in Stanford University. He likes running, and already wrote an essay about Japanese running shoes and how they could take a share in the sport shoes American market. He has plans of traveling the world, and a small detour in Japan would be helpful in pursuing his early business idea. Without money to do it, is able to convince his father in funding his trip and attempt to get into business.

After a short time selling encyclopaedias in Hawaii he finally arrives to Japan, where he gets an interview with Onitsuka representatives, and manages to get unique distribution rights in the Eastern States for their Tiger running shoes. His company will be Blue Ribbon Sports of Portland.

Back home from his trip he starts selling Tiger running shoes while working for an accounting firm. Onitsuka´s shoes are good in quality and priced lower than Adidas, market leader at the time, selling easily. Always short of cash, Phil spends every dollar earnt to buy more running shoes, raising continuous problems with his bank. To make things worse deliveries from Japan are always late.

By 1964 he sends some shoes to his early coach in Oregon University, Bill Bowerman. Very professional and strict, he knows everything about running and training. He likes the shoes so much that becomes partner with Phil, who happily agrees to get him on board (49% for Bowerman, who doesn´t want to take decisions, and 51% for Knight). Shortly afterwards they get distribution rights from Onitsuka for the whole United States.

Unable to attend demand, starts hiring people. Despite the selling success he is always near bankruptcy and unable to work exclusively in Blue Ribbon. By 1968 he meets his future wife and rents a derelict office as heaquarters. By that time also the suggestions from Bowerman make their way into Onitsuka´s newest running shoes.

Already in the 1970s Knight´s relation with Onitsuka erodes, as he finds out that they are looking for a replacement distributor in the United States, as confirmed by a Japanese spy. Thinking that he cannot relay fully on selling other people shoes, finds factories capable of making their own, using all the knowledge from Bowerman innovations. That is the birth of Nike as an independent brand, whose name comes from the Greek goddess of victory.

During the following years Nike endorses its first athletes, among them the great but ill-fated Pre Lafontaine, while Bowerman goes as head coach to the Olympics in Munich, retiring shortly afterwards from coaching deeply affected by the terrorist attacks.

We know about the legal fight between Onitsuka and Nike, and the continuous struggle to pay the factories deliveries and workers.  By this time in the book we are already familiar with some of Phil´s closest employees, working passionately in the company from the early days.

By 1977 they test the first running shoes with injected air in the soles, which would conquer the market. Manufacturing broadens to different countries while they start making sports apparel too. With sales growing unstoppable, in 1980, and after much thought from Knight, Nike goes finally public. Shares offering make him a rich man worth $178 million.

In the last brief chapter Knight jumps 30 years to talk about the loss of his son Matthew, his friendship with some of the best known athletes, Nike´s campaigns to improve working conditions for his employees and some mistakes. At this point you can think that maybe is trying to justify being one of the richest man in the world. Or maybe not, as along the book Knight admitted in many occasions his failures.

A successful entrepreneur, although with errors as employer and father.

“Beating the competition is relatively easy. Beating yourself is a never-ending commitment.” Nike´s ad campaign

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *