Phil Knight, founder of Nike, pens down the early days of Nike in this part memoir, part biography and part business book, “Shoe Dog”. The book starts with Phil Knight’s idea to sell Japanese made sneakers in USA, his business school thesis supporting the same, his journey to Japan to ink the deal and the subsequent world travel post which he dedicates his life to building Nike and the struggles thereafter.
In today’s interconnected world where communication is instant and automation is the norm, reading about running a business when these were non existent is fascinating. Nike is closer to today’s startup than to any old school business as the company prioritised growth and expansion over security and capital accumulation. His anecdotes regarding dearth of capital, constant tussle with the bank on rapid expansion, the bank asking him to scale down his ambition and focus on capital accumulation gives insights on the business mentality in the yesteryears.
Throughout the book, Phil Knight talks about his hands off management style. He styles his management on the below quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.
Profile of the Nike founding team is far fetched from the general imagery of traditional old school businessmen. They seem to be misfits who found a home in Nike, at least Phil Knight thinks so. No wonder the whole company rallied around doing iconoclastic things that many business would not even think of during those years.
All in all, the book is a great read. I was hoping to read more about Nike’s marketing strategy and how it evolved, but there is hardly any mention of this. Probably for another book I guess.
Reading Shoe Dog brought back fond memories of reading “Made in Japan” years back.