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Book Review

Nike founder explores resilience in entrepreneurship

 

We’ve all seen that Nike swoosh printed boldly on intricately designed shoes, plastered on winner’s vests, and other apparel, store fronts and on mobile phone apps. The value of that swoosh alone, is in the billions of dollars and the company’s value keeps rising.

The brand, started by Phil Knight as Blue Ribbon Sports, importing running shoes from Japan in 1964 and selling them from the back of his car, is actually pronounced phonetically as “ni-key”, named after a Greek goddess of victory. He started the company with 50 dollars borrowed from his father.

In his book Shoe Dog, Phil Knight writes his story, about Nike’s beginning more than 50 years ago, forever being in debt, the constant struggle of liquidity entrepreneurs’ face, the disorderly fashion with which some elements of the business stumble into place, as well as how the personality and vision of the founder can impact a business in more ways than one.

Knight writes in an intimate manner. He draws the reader in like he’s telling a secret. His writer’s voice commands attention and stillness. Perhaps a compensation for his introverted, shy self as he readily admits. It’s an introversion that led to a “laisserz-faire” management style, which he crystallises with the words “Don’t tell people how to do something, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results”.

The man from Oregon, where the multibillion-dollar company is based, draws parallels between war and business in the book, pointing out his main heroes as Churchill Winston, JKF Kennedy and Leo Tolstoy. He draws inspiration from their leadership under extreme conditions, the same conditions he had to deal with when starting out. For the better part of Nike’s first decade, Knight’s biggest nightmare was finances. 

The title Shoe Dog is drawn from the description of someone who’s dedicated themselves to not only the love, but also trade of shoes. This includes design and actual production, because it’s all in the factories.

The company has been studied by universities including Havard and Stanford, sharing research, and this book adds to that body of knowledge of entrepreneurship.

Shoe Dog is written in two parts, with most chapters named according to years (1963-1980) as well as ‘Dawn’ at the beginning and ‘Night’ at the tail end.

Knight is honest in telling his tale, like the runner that he is, running toward truth of his experience, but not necessarily drawing a checklist of what-to-do for the budding entrepreneur. It is for the discerning reader to draw their own conclusion. And even as he concludes he admits “God, how I wish I could relieve 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 trials and ordeals, might be inspired or comforted. Or warned. Some young entrepreneur, maybe, some athlete or painter or novelist, might press on. It’s all the same drive.” 

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