Review: Shoe Dog

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE by Phil Knight

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Most business biographies are interesting but not necessarily helpful. They can feel remote from the front-line experience of most of us. This one is different.

Nike is a global phenomenon, of course, and it’s easy to see its success as inevitable now – so it’s revelatory to discover this often painfully honest, self-deprecating version of the real story from its founder, Phil Knight.

It can be very lonely being an entrepreneur. There’s a conspiracy of silence around what success is really like, which makes it easy to feel uniquely unsuccessful – we love stories of success, we like to associate with success, and therefore every company must portray itself as successful if it’s to win customers and keep the confidence of its suppliers and shareholders. Knight has no skin in the game now, nothing to prove, and his generous gift in this book is to reveal that one of the world’s most iconic brands began as shakily as any startup. Repeatedly in those early years it was on the brink of failure: debt, cashflow, quality issues, shaky supplier relationships, personal tragedy, it’s all here.

The company was forged and sustained by the passion, vision and chutzpah of Knight and his (brilliantly dysfunctional) partners and founding team – especially Bill Bowerman, who famously destroyed his wife’s waffle iron in an early attempt to create what became Nike’s signature lightweight, grippy sole – the faith of the early supporters, and a hefty slice of raw dumb luck.

The book was ghostwritten by Pulitzer-winning journalist J. R. Moehringer and is a masterclass in business writing: the story is as compelling as any novel, and Knight’s inner life as real to the reader as any fictional hero.

It’s also a masterclass in brand storytelling: I, like any other runner who’s read this, will feel differently as we lace up our Nike shoes. They’re not just shoes any more, there’s an emotional connection there. I’m inspired as a runner, but more importantly as an entrepreneur I’m encouraged and feeling something of the Nike fire in my own belly.

This is one of the great business biographies and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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