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Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike Hardcover – April 26, 2016
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“A refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like. It’s a messy, perilous, and chaotic journey riddled with mistakes, endless struggles, and sacrifice. Here Knight opens up in a way few CEOs are willing to do. I don’t think Knight sets out to teach the reader anything. Instead, he accomplishes something better. He tells his story as honestly as he can. It’s an amazing tale.”—Bill Gates, one of his favorite books of 2016
“‘The best book I read last year. Phil is . . . a gifted storyteller.”--Warren Buffett
“Shoe Dog is a great American story about luck, grit, know-how, and the magic alchemy of a handful of eccentric characters who came together to build Nike. That it happened at all is a miracle, because as I learned from this book, though we are a nation that extols free enterprise, we also excel at thwarting it. This is Phil Knight, one on one, no holds barred. The lessons he imparts about entrepreneurship and the obstacles one faces in trying to create something, are priceless. The pages I folded down are too many to mention.”—Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
"I’ve known Phil Knight since I was a kid, but I didn’t really know him until I opened this beautiful, startling, intimate book. And the same goes for Nike. I’ve worn the gear, with pride, but I didn’t realize the remarkable saga of innovation and survival and triumph that stood behind every swoosh. Candid, funny, suspenseful, literary—this is a memoir for people who love sport, but above all it’s a memoir for people who love memoirs."—Andre Agassi, New York Times bestselling author of Open
"Shoe Dog is an extraordinary hero's journey, an epic tale of faith, unparalleled determination, excellence, failure, triumph, hard-earned wisdom, and love. It's nothing short of a miracle that Nike exists. I finished the last sentence in complete awe, inspired and grateful for the experience."--Lisa Genova, New York Times bestselling author of Still Alice and Inside the O'Briens
"A touching, highly entertaining adventure odyssey, with much to teach about innovation and creativity. Phil Knight takes us back to the Big Bang of the swoosh, recalls how he first begged and borrowed from reluctant banks, how he assembled a crew of eccentric but brilliant misfits, how they all worked together to build something unique and paradigm-changing. An inspiration for everyone with an unconventional dream."—Michael Spence, Nobel-prize winning economist
"A fresh historical prospective on one of the most profiled companies in the world...[Shoe Dog] builds characters of the people behind the brand, many of whom we've never heard of."--ESPN.com
"Loaded with hard-earned wisdom...Want a simple recommendation? Go get a copy."--Portland Business Journal Review
"Shoe Dog is, at its heart, an origin story, of both a global brand and a footwear lifer...it reads like pure adventure story, boys facing steeper and steeper challenges and finding ways through, often by the skin of their teeth. As Knight collects the misfits and oddballs who become the core of his growing company, Shoe Dog is more like The Lord of the Rings than a typical mogul memoir."--Complex
“A rare and revealing look at the notoriously media-shy man behind the swoosh.”--Booklist STARRED review
About the Author
One of the world’s most influential business executives, Phil Knight is the founder of Nike, Inc. He served as CEO of the company from 1964 to 2004, as board chairman through 2016, and he is currently Chairman Emertius. He lives in Oregon with his wife, Penny.
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Let’s cut to the chase. This will be a great read for anybody, but if you’re thinking about starting a business, especially a business that you expect to grow, this book belongs on your must-read list. You’ll learn things that you won’t learn anywhere else and you’ll learn things that you can only learn from a story.
You’ll learn about the constant struggle to fund growth. Most of the books about entrepreneurship don’t tell you about that. If you start a business and that business starts to grow, you are funding the process out ahead of your cash flow. The result is that you’re chronically cash poor, even when you’re fabulously profitable, and that is both counterintuitive and very tough to manage.
You’ll also learn about the plusses and minuses of going public. There’s a lot here about relationships and values, and staying true to what you think is important. There are lessons about how putting people in the right job makes all the difference. And, there are lessons about balancing being a hero at work with being a parent at home.
There are also important lessons about not taking yourself too seriously. Knight describes the “executive retreats” that Nike would have. They called them “Buttface sessions.” The name came from one of the early employees who said that Nike was the only company their size where you could shout out “Hey, buttface!” and the entire management team would turn around.
There’s another important thing, too. If you think that innovation is only something that high-tech companies do, or that it requires coding, read this book. A lot of Nike’s success comes from being an innovator in shoes.
Shoe Dog is superbly written, and you’ll enjoy it if you just read it as a story. But if you’re in business, and especially if you’re starting a business and wanting to make it grow, this book should be on your must-read list. Keep it handy, right near Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing about Hard Things.
Toward the end of the book, Phil Knight says this:
“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.”
I think he achieved his goal. If you want some seasoned advice to help you run and grow your company, or if you just want to read a great business memoir, pick up a copy of Shoe Dog: A Memoir by The Creator of Nike.
So now I'm back to normal, but I still very enthusiastically recommend this book. In the most basic terms, Phil Knight's story is one of success. It's no secret that Nike is a giant, but Knight nevertheless creates page-turning suspense at several junctures. He also gives us an intimate look at his personal life, which makes complete sense, because business is personal. For people who truly believe in what they're doing, it's impossible to separate the two. Knight's passion is punctuated by his referring to Nike as his business child and with his proclamation that "if it ever does become just business, that will mean that business is very bad." He is the most interesting person I never knew I wanted to meet.
As I approached the final pages, the critic in me wondered how this story could be complete without mention of the Nike sweat-shop crisis. Was it strategically omitted because it might ruin the warm-fuzzy feeling I have now? The answer is no. Knight includes it in the final section that brings everything up to date, in the "where are they now?" pages. I won't go into the content, but I will say that warm and fuzzy remain intact. And I have more respect for the company than ever. I am almost embarrassed that I run in Adidas.
For those interested in sports, as I am, history, as I am, and business, as I am, this book was a tremendous synthesis of the three, in the particular context of describing the birth of one of the greatest brands in American history – indeed, in world history … I doubt the story of a company’s founding and rise to greatness has ever ended a couple decades before the company’s peak, but that is the genius of Shoedog. Nike founder, Phil Knight, begins the story of this iconic brand at the most embryonic of stages, and ends the story in 1980, at their public offering, despite two and a half decades of utter domination that commenced subsequently. The story of Nike to us mere mortals is Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, and “Just Do It.” But as readers of this fine book will discover, the real story of Nike took place in the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s, as the formative challenges that make a business took place. And if any company would become rightful heir to “Just Do It” — it was Nike.
Nike has employed hundreds of thousands of people over the decades, and has created untold amounts of wealth by giving consumers something they wanted: Initially, a high quality running shoe; eventually, a brand — a belief — an affiliation. But the genius of finding future basketball, track, and golf stars to endorse the brand was a small part of the story of this company’s ascension. The genius that created Nike is the genius of this book: It focused on personnel management, on global cost synergies, on harnessing an international supply chain the likes of which the world had never seen, on overcoming legal adversity, and above all else, managing the challenges of liquidity and capital that nearly any company faces in the early innings of their existence. This is an economics book. It is a tribute to the miracle of free trade which has created more wealth than any other phenomena in the history of civilization. It is a rebuke of the evils of crony capitalism and those rent-seeking piranhas who would attempt to use government alliances to strangle healthy competition.
We are living in an era when forces on the right and the left are capitulating to a childish view of globalization — one seeking to make it a bogeyman for anything and everything — and ignoring the absolutely indisputable evidence for the enhancement of quality of life globalization has created. Few companies better illustrate what matching willing buyers and sellers around the world can mean for consumers, for producers, for shareholders, for employees, and for indeed all stakeholders in a given organization than Nike. While countless others do, for it is a universal lesson, Nike is the story of a young man and his track coach creating $100 billion of wealth that has circulated across a vast, vast ecosystem, by understanding the miracles of global trade. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough for one looking for a biographical narrative version of an economics lesson, versus the academic attempts that often prove too dry. The story of Shoedog was anything but dry, and the message of Shoedog is anything but trite.