Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight (2023)


1 star

N/A = good but not on the scale

1 star = perspective supplementing

2 stars = perspective influencing

3 stars = perspective altering


This book was interesting, especially given my profession. I did appreciate Knight’s honesty throughout the book, of the trials by fire that he went through to learn the business. That is not very uncommon, I know, but it was interesting to read about. There weren’t any profound life philosophies that I gleaned from reading the book, but there were a few themes that emerged for me.

One: throughout his early career, Knight often referred back to his travel around the world when he was in his early 20s. Sometimes the macro-insights made its way into his business thinking, but often it was lurking in the background, a calibration of his world view that made him think or respond in certain ways. I have often said how I believe that every action you take, big and small, meaningful and meaningless. is the culmination of an entire life’s experience. I feel like Knight was honest about the background philosophies and life experiences that shaped and informed who he was as a person outside of a businessman.

Two: Everything in business comes down to supply and demand. High demand without supply to meet it; high supply without demand to meet it; etc. Seems so basic, but it’s so fundamental.

Three: Inspiration can come at a moment’s notice. E.g., the name “Nike” was selected almost whimsically. Inspiration can also be a methodical grind. It took Knights company years to become an overnight success.

All in all, this is a good book. Worth reading, if anything to learn about an interesting journey for the start a development of a successful business.


Started December 8, 2016:

-From the outset, I should say, that it is interesting reading this book. In full disclosure, I work for Under Armour. The opinions I discuss here are solely my own and do not reflect those of Under Armour. Any observations or comments I make here are my own objective comments and do not reflect any larger insight into Under Armour or any other relationship. I am reading and writing about this book merely for educational purposes.

-The foreword to this book is pretty good. There were interesting life analogies to running that I can relate to, particularly the idea that running a certain distance isn’t about where you’re going, it’s about being afraid of stopping. So mile after mile, you keep going, and realize that it’s the journey that’s valuable.

-Phil Knight grew up in Portland, attended the University of Oregon and then Stanford business school. At Stanford, he had pitched an idea about importing Japanese running shoes and selling them in the US at prices that undercut Adidas.

-After Stanford, Knight planned a round the world trip with a business school buddy. They made it only to Hawaii after his friend found a girl, and he decided to book a flight to Japan to talk about his business idea to a Japanese shoe making company (Tiger).

-Blue Ribbon Sports–the name originated on-the-fly after Knight met with Japanese shoe execs and they asked for the name of his business.

-Interesting backdrop of WWII. Knights visit to Japan was in the early 1960s, and though it’s a little hard to imagine now, the emotions of WWII were still in the air between both sides.

-After the meeting, Knight continued on his round the world journey. I think it’s interesting how these travels at an early age may have influenced his vision.

-Knight comes back from his trip and doesn’t hear back fromTiger. He soon decides to pursue a career as a CPA, but after a while, he receives a small shipment from the company. He sends a pair to his old track coach at Oregon and after a while, they decide to enter into a business partnership. Lesson: you never know who from your prior life will be along your side in a new chapter.

-The sales of Tiger shoes goes well. However, after a while, Knight has to go back to Japan to meet with the company to negotiate becoming the exclusive Western US shoe distributor. Initially Knight thinks that the meeting does not go well. There’s a good quote in there that I like–something about how happiness seems to dull the senses and also how victory seems to dull the beauty in the world. Tiger ultimately agrees for Blue Ribbon to be the exclusive shoe dealer in the Western US.

-It’s been a while since I posted, and I’ve gone through a significant chunk of the book. In between have been descriptions of how Knight worked as a CPA during as a day job and ran Blue Ribbon on the side. Eventually, Knight left his accounting job and got a job as an accounting professor at Oregon State, where he met his wife.

-Blue Ribbon went back to Onitsuka (the company that made the Tiger shoes) and secured rights to sell on the US East Coast. Knight had to come up with a story on the spot about how Blue Ribbon had East Coast offices, when in fact there were only 3 or 4 employees at the company (Knight, Bill Bowerman, Jeff Johnson, Bob Woodell), none of whom lived on the East Coast. Nevertheless, Blue Ribbon secured the rights.

-One thing that I like about this book is Knight’s honesty. He talks about his failures with as much candidness as his successes, and that makes for an interesting story to read. Another interesting point–Knight says that he wished he kept a journal, particularly from dinners he would have with his business partner Woodell.

-Interesting story about the Cortes shoe. Blue Ribbon was originally going to name it the shoe the Aztec for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, but Adidas had a similar sounding shoe and they threatened legal action against Blue Ribbon. So Blue Ribbon used the name Cortes after the conquistador.

-Blue Ribbon struggles to get continued financing, despite it’s growth numbers. Their bank is hesitant to lend credit due to the zero cash balance on the books–all moneies from sales are reinvested into growing the business. Blue Ribbon tries a stock offering in the nascent venture capital world, but they get zero bidders. Eventually Woodell’s parents give Knight an $8000 loan to keep the business going.

-The relationship between Blue Ribbon and Onitsuka strains, especially after a visit to the US by the Onitsuka chairman. Blue Ribbon finds out that Onitsuka is visiting more than a dozen Tiger distributors in the US. I appreciate the honesty that Knight describes in this encounter–how he reluctantly and regrettably stole a folder from the chairman’s briefcase during their visit to glean this information. The level of honesty and ability to admit actions in moral gray area makes this story captivating.

-Eventually Knight realizes that Blue Ribbon’s relationship with Onitsuka has to end, but it can’t end yet until Blue Ribbon has a back up plan for suppliers. Blue Ribbon considers working with a Japanese holding company that can connect them with other shoe manufacturers in Japan. Knight thinks about that. In the meantime, he goes to a distributor in Mexico (the distributor is called “Canada”) and contracts with them to manufacture football shoes, which are eventually worn by Notre Dame’s QB in 1971. Admittedly by Knight, the shoes were not great. But one thing born from this purchase was Blue Ribbon’s renaming to Nike.

-The name Nike came about kind of at random. Knight was thinking of a new name to rebrand the shoes developed the Mexican manufacturer. The first choices were Falcon and Dimension Six. Knight was lobbying hard for Dimension Six, but everyone in the small company thought it was a terrible name. They eventually crowd sourced the naming to the entire company, but did not have any captivating names. The day before Knight was to inform the manufacturer of the new name, Woodell tells Knight that Johnson dreamed the name Nike. Knight is honest about the randomness in why he picked that name. He says he’d like to think that it reminded him of his travels to the Acropolis, memories of Churchill’s quotes on victory, the presence of the goddess Athena Nike on distinguished medals. The reality seems to be that the choice was somewhat impromptu. Still, though, there is something mythical about the story of dreaming the name.

-Also the development of the Nike checkmark logo is interesting. Blue Ribbon hired a designer to develop a logo that looked fast and conveyed speed. Blue Ribbon eventually paid $35 for the logo, and Knight wasn’t particularly fond of it, but was convinced by others that it was alright.

-Two quotes I like (don’t remember the exact quotes, but they go something like):

Confidence is like money, you need some to get some more, and people are loathe to give it to you.

Some of the most important statements in life are spoken softly.

-Nike turns a corner. Knight finds an alternative manufacturer in Japan and the company displays the shoes at a Chicago running conference. The buzz goes well, even though Knight admits that the shoes don’t look great. Onitsuka finds out about the other supplier and terminates their engagement with Nike/Blue Ribbon.

-Knight makes a decisive call to action for his young company at this moment–that Onitsuka’s withdrawal causes uncertainty in an uncertain time, but indicates to his employees that the time is there for them to build something new from scratch.

-Knight and colleagues work to have a presence at the US Trials in Eugene before the 1972 Olympics. They have a few people wear their shoes.

-Nike gets their first patent on the polyurethane waffle shoe design. The first design was literally made in a waffle iron by Bowerman.

-Nike’s first athlete endorsement was a Romanian tennis player. Nike paid him $10,000. Later, Nike had the University of Oregon football team wear shoes.

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