Just Read – Shoe Dog A Memoir by the Creator of Nike By Phil Knight

The first book of the year. At the beginning of the year, i decided i would read at least 12 physical books. This is apart from the ones i might read on Kindle or some other e-reader. Since i spend most of my time on gadgets, i think i might need to tweak that target a little.

Shoe Dog was one of the most recommended biographies of the past few years. So, when the reading bug bit again late last year, i picked up this book. I got some vouchers on Amazon and i decided to spend them on 2 books. The other one am currently reading and will review it once i finish.

shoe dog

Nike has been one of the world’s most recognizable brands. The swoosh logo is enough to make you remember your favourite sportsman. No matter the country, the language, it is always easy to recognise a Nike branded shop. Not to mention premium branded shoes. As someone who hasn’t spent more than 1000 rupees ever to buy a shoe, i never realised how a company could survive in a price conscious country like India selling shoes where the average price is above Rs 10000. Thats what made me do a bit of research on shoes, the brands, the competition, the raw materials that go into the making of a shoe, the branding, supply chain and the mega superstar athletes who endorse them.

The book traces the life and origins of Phil Knight. His travels around the world, the experiences that mould his thinking and how he gets fascinated by the shoes made by a Japanese company called Onitsuka. Knight travels to Japan to meet up with the company officials, convince them to supply him the shoes to sell them in the US and ultimately make him the sole distributor of Onitsuka shoes in the whole of United States. All this when both the countries had just finished bombing each other during the World War2. Knight anticipates a lot of hostility among the Japanese for the Americans, but surprisingly finds them that their political views dont cloud their business decisions.

Knight sells Onitsuka’s brands in the US till he realises that one of the executives of Onitsuka is trying to undercut him by researching for competing distributors in the US. All this after both companies have signed an agreement that Knight and his company, Blue Ribbon will be the sold distributors for Onitsuka shoes in the US.

This leads him to start up a parallel company without the knowledge of Onitsuka and when they come to realise, all hell breaks loose. Knight and Blue Ribbon are sued in the Japanese courts and he counter sues them in the US. Finally the US court rules the case in favour of Knight. Then the evolution of Nike as a brand begins. His constant innovation in shoes makes them beat the German competitor Adidas.

Though the book completely focuses on Knight’s work on Nike, i would have loved him to write more about his experiences and dealings with some of the biggest sportsmen and women who have adorned the shoes. Then i realised that probably he didnt want to spoil his relations with the superstars, their huge egos and their agents. Maybe thats why he just skims over that episodes. Iam sure that would have made for an entirely juicy book. Still i feel the book is a great read and is up there in the top 3 biographies i have ever read. The other two being Andre Aggasi’s Open and Warren Buffet’s The Snowball

An excerpt from the book

God, how i wish i could relive the whole thing. Short of that, I’d like to share the experience, the ups and downs, so that some young man or woman, somewhere, going through the same trials and ordeals, might be inspired or comforted. OR warned. Some young entrepreneur, maybe some athlete or painter or novelist, might press on.

Its all the same drive. The same dream.

It would be nice to help them avoid teh typical discouragements. I’d tell them to hit pause, think long and hard about how they want to spend their time, and with whom they want to spend it for the next forty years. I’d tell men and women in their midtwenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you dont 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 nothing you’ve ever felt.

I’d like to warn them that the best of them, the iconoclasts, the innovators, the rebels, that they will always have a bulls eye on their backs. The better they get, the bigger the bulls eye. Its not one man’s opinion, its the law of nature.

I’d like to remind them that America isnt the entrepreneurial Shangri-La people think. Free enterprise always irritates the kinds of trolls who like to block, to thwart, to say no, sorry, no. and its always been this way. Entrepreneurs have always been outgunned, outnumbered. They’ve always fouhg uphill, and the hill has never been steeper. America is becoming less entrepreneurial, not more.

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
Author – Phil Knight
Pages – 400
Publisher – Scribner

A list of almost all the books i have read along with their reviews can be found here, here and here