Shoedog: A Memoir by The Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

I love reading books! Absorbing as much knowledge as possible. I try with audio books, but when I am tired I often end up falling asleep so I normally stick to doing it the old fashion way!

I like to try and get through a book or two a week – almost always business related of course – and I’ll be bringing you the key takeaways from some of my recent reading. Now is definitely the time to get stuck into those books you’ve never got round to!

Going forward, I’ll be posting loads of reviews of memoirs, autobiographies, biographies and more from across the entire business world. First up is this fascinating book about Nike’s journey from a tiny shoe distributor to one of the most recognisable and successful brands of all time…

The first point to make about Shoedog is it’s a very easy read. If you’re an entry level reader when it comes to books about business, or you’re worried about being baffled by terminology you don’t quite understand, this is nice and steady. It’s more an autobiography of a business leader than a self-proclaimed book about business.

It applies to all age groups. I’ve recommended it to a lot of people and I’ve even got Harlie, my 13-year-old daughter, reading it.

The importance of having a great business culture is an undercurrent running throughout this book. Phil doesn’t discuss it hugely openly, but it was clear to me while reading it that one of the key reasons for Nike’s success is the outstanding passion for the company from absolutely everyone, top to bottom. The founders – Phil, a former athlete, and his coach Bill Bowerman – were incredibly passionate about Nike’s success, and crucially they were obviously very skilled at amplifying this passion through their employees.

Something I found very interesting was the time it took to build Nike and make it into the hugely successful and influential global brand that it remains today. It was founded in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports, and it didn’t go public until around 15 years later. In today’s world of instant gratification it is quite hard to imagine such a long time line for success but that is the reality of business. There is also something quite romantic, I think, about a company as globally huge as Nike starting out as a little shoe distributor!

One of my favourite themes of the book gives you a fascinating insight into how the distribution market was a much harder game in the sixties and seventies. Obviously there was no internet, and the transport infrastructure was much more limited meaning it was very tough for them to grow the business. This is one reason why it took so long for them to grow – businesses now are lucky because if you use all of the many channels open to you in the right way you can expand incredibly quickly. I’ve recently published a blog on how crucial it is to create content to help with this too!

It was super interesting to read about how little cash they had and Phil is very honest about this. They were constantly struggling to pay suppliers, and make the payroll – it was a real money merry-go-round. That struck a chord with me because that’s the reality for most businesses. Most people don’t really see or appreciate these struggles, and most business owners would never dream of admitting it! Living on that cash knife edge is a reality of business – especially when you are growing aggressively all the time. Growth comes at the expense of cash.

Another particularly interesting section of the book was hearing about Phil’s work/life balance – he didn’t have one! This is something I talk about a lot, and my view is that there isn’t a right or wrong answer. The best approach is to do the things YOU want to do, and his focus was all about driving his business forward. By his own admission, that was at the expense of deeper relationships, especially his kids. He doesn’t position that approach as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – it’s just a fact. And no-one can doubt it wasn’t successful for Nike!

Key takeaways

  • If you’ve actually started a business, it’s likely you’re hugely passionate about it…but you will fail if you don’t ensure your employees share your passion for the company’s growth and success

  • Despite everything that’s happening in the world today, it was STILL tougher to try and grow a business in the sixties and seventies than it is in 2020

  • All businesses live on a cash knife edge, especially during periods of growth

  • Everyone’s idea of a work/life balance is completely different and that’s exactly how it should be

Check out my YouTube channel for fun, honest, educational and topical (including my four-part coronavirus special) interviews with entrepreneurs, business leaders and celebs, read more of my blogs on LinkedIn, follow me on Instagram and check out my ‘day job’ via my Funding Guru site!

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