Shoe Dog is a memoir by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, which details how he built the company from humble beginnings into the behemoth it is today.
I knew very little about the history of Nike before I read the book, so it was interesting to read how the company came about and it was originally known as Blue Ribbon before they changed to the iconic name we know today.
What Knight achieved is remarkable and this becomes more apparent the further you get into the book. He came up with his idea of a shoe company while at university and after a trip around the world set up his company selling imported Onitsuka shoes from Japan.
I had no idea this was how the company started but it was fascinating to read how the company grew and grew and eventually started producing its own shoes and went on to become a bigger brand than the company they originally imported from.
If you’re looking to start a business and want to know what it’s like, Shoe Dog is a great book to read. Knight is clear about the struggles he faced to grow his company and how it nearly came crashing down.
The book is a good primer for anyone interested in entrepreneurship and once you’ve finished it, you’ll have a greater appreciation for how difficult and challenging it is to set up a new company and make it a success.
Shoe Dog summary
Takeaway 1 – Good managers don’t micromanage
One of the points in Shoe Dog that resonated with me was Phil Knight’s management style. I have worked in several jobs in different sectors under various management techniques.
I can count on one hand the managers that commanded my respect and got the bet out of me and others. There weren’t many.
My boss, while I was working in a betting shop, was fantastic and gave me lots of confidence and made work enjoyable, while my boss at my old office job was obsessed with targets and other meaningless which had no significance in the wider world.
Even though I dislike both jobs, I was a lot more motivated o work for my boss in the betting shop than in the office. This was because I was trusted to get on with the job and treated as an adult.
Whereas, in the office job we were constantly watched, received email after annoying email about targets and even told to cut ou bathroom breaks so we would be at our desks longer.
Knight’s management technique mirrored my boss at the betting shop. He people get on with their jobs and trusted their ability to do so.
In return, he was rewarded with willing workers and great results. In this regard, he put into practice something he learnt from General Patton:
“Don’t tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”
When you have the freedom to do your work you’re better able to do it to the best of your ability than if you have someone constantly looking over your shoulder.
Why employ someone to do a job and not trust them to come through and deliver results?
Micromanagement ends up alienating and demotivating a workforce. It’s much better to let people do their jobs and surprise you with their results. This makes them happy and you happy when their results come in.
This is of course provided they are competent, but if a boss employs incompetent people that says more about him than it does their workforce.
Takeaway 2 – Having the right people around you is essential
After working in various jobs, I can’t stress how important teamwork is. Without a good team, you won’t get very far.
Working in construction in New Zealand taught me how important it is to get along with your co-workers. When heavy machinery and lifting is involved, you need to trust your colleagues and know that they have your back and that you have theirs.
The same principle applied to Nike and it’s one of the reasons the company became so successful.
Knight primarily worked with people he trusted. This had two benefits. Firstly, he could allow them to get on with the job in the knowledge that they would do it to the best of their ability.
Secondly, that he could trust. He knew they would not try and stab him in the back and work against. As he had developed relationships with a lot of them beforehand, they bought into his philosophy and were more loyal.
A company is only as good as the employees that work for it. If the employees don’t buy into the ethos of the company and believe in its cause, it’s going to struggle.
This is especially true at the top of the company where tough decisions have to be made. If there is a culture of trust and acknowledgement that you can say what needs to be said to each other, the company will succeed.
Takeaway 3 – Go for broke when you’re young
One of the biggest takeaways I took from Shoe Dog was that if you have a big idea when you’re young, you should go full steam ahead with it.
Knight had dreamt up his business idea while he was at university. After going on a round the world trip and going to Japan to specifically ask Onitsuka if he could partner with them and import their shoes, he put his idea into practice.
He could not have foreseen what his business would eventually become. He didn’t start with the intention of creating his own products, just importing Onitsuka’s, but that’s what he ended up doing.
It would have been easy for him to dismiss his dream and take a safe job. He did actually do this, he worked as an accountant for a while, but this was while he was going ahead with his dream job too.
When you’re young you have a lot of time to make mistakes. I spent a lot of my twenties travelling around the world and working in various jobs in different countries.
I renovated an IKEA store, laid wastewater pipes in New Zealand and taught English in Spain, these are diverse jobs. Yet, the experiences taught me a lot. I realised an office job wasn’t for me, especially after I ended up working in one for eleven months while I got my travel blog off the ground.
I had always wanted to become self-employed and I was finally able to do it by setting up my own blog. If I hadn’t taken the time to experiment and travel in my twenties I might never have started that blog or wrote as much as I have.
Even in your thirties you still have a margin for error, if you’re looking for a career change or to proceed with a business idea.
Regret is a horrible thing to live with. It’s better to go for broke than to regret what might have been if you play it safe.
Shoe Dog Review
This Shoe Dog summary has looked at a fascinating insight into what it took to build a behemoth of a company. I really enjoyed this book and learnt a lot from it.
Phil narrates his story in an engaging manner and you feel like you are there with him as he describes the numerous events throughout his life.
What’s incredible about his story is just how much dedication it took to get Nike off the ground.
He had to work and work just to make the company profitable. Nor did I ralise that he started off importing shoes from Japan.
I’d always loved Nike products, and the brand itself, but I have an even greater respect for what Phil and Nike have done after reading his memoirs.
This is no 4 Hour Work Week, Phil was working overtime to get Nike off the ground, and to his credit, he succeeded.
Shoe Dog is a brilliant book and one that will entertain and educate you.
Who should read Shoe Dog?
Almost anyone would enjoy reading Shoe Dog. Even if you’re not business-minded, you’ll find it an enjoyable read.
I didn’t know much about the history, and I suppose many people will be similar to me in this regard.
For this reason alone it’s worth reading the book. Anyone looking to start a company, or considering expanding their own, will get immense value from Shoe Dog.