"Shoe dogs were people who devoted themselves wholly to making, selling, buying, or designing of shoes."
Shoe Dog is a memoir by Phil Knight, the creator of Nike. This record of the early years (1962-1980) of the shoe empire takes us on a journey of the ups and downs of one of the most recognizable brands in history. And while Nike is far and away the most popular shoe company in the world, that wasn’t always the case.
The book addresses a number of lessons that he and his team learned through Nike’s early years. A few topics that stuck out to me were how they overcame such adversity with their bankers and business partners. How they continued to innovate and improve the shoes that they were producing. And also the agility they showed in manufacturing and producing shoes when their manufacturers let them down.
This funny, surprising and unfiltered tale was such a fun read. The book itself is written in a very engaging way and is a great mix of personal stories and business examples that will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. I hope you enjoy learning about how Phil Knight not only changed the shoe game but how Nike transformed sports and our culture as a whole.
“I wanted to leave a mark on the world,” writes Knight. “I wanted to win. No, that’s not right. I simply didn’t want to lose.”
The Big Idea
Seek a Calling
"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 few, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt."
Throughout Shoe Dog, Phil Knight talks about what Nike really is. It’s a way of life. It stands for more than just shoes and apparel. It’s competing, it’s striving to achieve, it’s victory. It sounds great but unless you know the story of Phil Knight and the early Nike team, you would think it’s just shoes and apparel. This idea of seeking a calling was what pushed Phil and his team to challenge, to persevere and not give up. It was always about striving to be better, to compete harder against the competition and to do what others said they couldn’t. Nike stands for this mentality of working and playing your hardest to achieve victory and greatness – whatever that means to you.
This message was strong and inspiring one throughout the book and really goes to show that passion and having a strong why, can propel you through anything!
Practice, Prepare and Execute
"So Hayes and I spent days role-playing, polishing our arguments and counterarguments, anticipating what objections Strasser might raise."
Throughout the first years of Nike, so much of their success was attributed to Phil and his core team just “figuring it out”. From financing loans, the logistics of shipping shoes, manufacturing shoes, doing business internationally, navigating politics, etc. It was pretty insane.
Now no doubt most all of these early Nike employees were extremely smart, but they didn’t really have the background required for the job at the time.
Throughout the book, there was something that kept coming up over and over again. It was how much these guys, practiced, prepared, role played, read, and networked with other professionals to prepare themselves to handle these tough situations and get the results that they were after. They acquired those skills and capabilities and figured it out along the way. It just goes to show how important practice and preparation are for all those who are successful, and Phil Knight and his team are no different!
Surround Yourself with the Right People
"Around the close of 1972 each man handed his house keys to the other, and now in early 1973 they switched places. Talk about team players."
Interestingly, Nike grew its employee count early on because of Phil Knight’s network. It was a common for him to hire former track athletes (like him), Oregon Alumnus (like him), friends of friends, family of friends, etc. This caused Nike to really be this big family that was so closely interconnected.
After looking at each of Phil’s early employees, there were a few common characteristics that stuck out to me. Each of them were team players, trusting, stubborn, autonomous, and go-getters. Not only was Phil able to recruit this special mix of people into his young company, he built a culture that enabled them to grow, learn and find success in whatever way that worked for them.
Phil Knight and Nike would not have gotten past those first couple of years without his great team. Which goes back to the lesson of how important it is to find and work with people that you like and that bring out the best in you.
It’s hard to imagine the world without Nike today. It’s had such an impact on fashion, athletics and our culture as a whole. You see the “swoosh” everywhere! This memoir by Phil Knight is an incredible look into the company’s history and gives us a pretty clear picture of how such a ginormous company started from such humble beginnings with a simple, “crazy” vision.
What Phil Knight ultimately achieved was something that was more than a company. It is a way of life. Nike stands for more than just its shoes and apparel. Its slogan, “Just Do It” is a mindset, a mantra and a way of life for some people.