I picked up the book Shoe Dog by Phil Knight near the end of 2016. I had seen it in bookstores, but ignored it until Bill Gates said it was one of the best books he had read all year.
Shoe Dog chronicles the rise and many near-falls of Nike. The book takes you from the very beginnings in the early 60’s to the mid-80’s when Nike had cemented itself as one of the most dominant brands of all time.
Phil Knight started Nike with his running coach, Bill Bowerman, in the early 1960’s. A single blog post can’t do the book justice on how fascinating the rise of Nike truly was.
For example, Knight would frequently travel to Japan to ensure the shoes were made properly (Nike started as a running shoe company only) and had to essentially bribe an employee of the shoe manufacturer (formerly Tiger, now Asics) to do business with him rather than a competitor. He also expanded his company much faster than they could handle. He let his employees buy a warehouse on the East Coast without having enough inventory to fill it or enough demand to justify it.
It seemed like the company was in a perpetual state of catastrophe, with Knight wanting to grow the company, and quickly finding there wasn’t enough money to pay his employees and suppliers. In one instance, he found his company was making over $70 million a year in revenue, and had less than $10,000 in the bank.
Knight is known as being very private – and the book didn’t cover much of his personal life. For example, only a page or two was dedicated to his late son Matt (who he appeared to have an estranged relationship with). He discussed his first love, and his wife, but neither in much detail.
Unquestionably, Shoe Dog was my favorite book of 2016. It’s incredibly fast paced, the characters Knight assembled to build Nike were truly one of a kind, and regardless what your aspirations are in life, it is well worth your time to read it.