To steal an adjective often used by good ole’ Jim Ross (of WWE and AEW fame), Nike creator Phil Knight’s recent memoir Shoe Dog is a “slobberknocker” of an experience. One would have never expected Nike to overcome its somewhat humble beginnings, growing pains, and its lies – oh the many, many lies!
The beginning of Knight’s memoir finds him as a recent graduate of the Stanford School of Business. Unsure of what direction to go in life, he thinks about an assignment he completed in which he came up with his own business concept. He did well on the assignment and, since he is feeling a sense of urgency to figure things out in life (as many people do in their 20s), he decides to turn that assignment into a pursuit. His concept at Stanford was to import and export high quality running shoes. While this doesn’t appear to be a groundbreaking idea in 2020, Knight makes the reader aware just how ridiculous this seemed to others when he started his quest in 1962.
The “whatever it takes” approach is perhaps the most captivating reoccurring theme in Shoe Dog. It’s what sucks the reader in and keeps the pages turning at a somewhat phrenetic pace (don’t be surprised if you finish this book in 3 days or less). Phil Knight writes in a way that makes the reader feel they are a part of his unbelievable journey. By the end of his tale, the reader has jumped every hurdle, navigated every roadblock, and ultimately gets to celebrate the success of Nike alongside Phil Knight and friends. Of course, the reader’s experience comes from a distance and many years after the fact, but the feeling of being present at all times speaks to how well Shoe Dog is written.
Being present at all times means the reader is treated to some of these “whatever it takes” moments. Be prepared to battle a little anxiety as Phil Knight wiggles out of various sticky situations. These moments mostly occur during Nike’s infancy and often involve big fibs told by Knight. The ethics of Knight’s behavior during these situations are definitely up for debate. However, it must be noted that there was never malice in Knight’s actions. In fact, FSM would bet dollars to doughnuts that many entrepreneurs have told the same fibs. Without spoiling too much, get ready to join Phil Knight as he lies or stretches the truth when dealing with banks, suppliers, and manufacturers. Observe him as he travels overseas and secures a shoe contract for his company that doesn’t exist yet.
Sports fans may be surprised that athletes such as Michael Jordan are scarcely discussed in Shoe Dog. We started the memoir thinking a large portion of the story would include Nike’s major athletes and their impact on the company over the years. Aside from begrudgingly admitting these athletes were needed for purposes of advertising, Knight rarely deviates from talking about his own journey and his significance to the creation of Nike. By the end of Shoe Dog, it’s clear that Knight’s self-critical nature and baffling insecurity kept pushing Nike forward amidst seemingly insurmountable odds at times.
For those reading this memoir for guidance about business and/or life, you definitely won’t leave empty handed. Knight’s guidance is not delivered explicitly but found in his actions and self-reflection. For those reading for the purposes of entertainment, lace up your running shoes, take a deep breath, and prepare for the run of your life!
FSM Final Grade: A+
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