Book review: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog is the story of Nike. From its humble beginning in the back of the 24 year old Phil Knight’s Plymouth through to its position as the premier sporting brand in the world. Knight tells the story with remarkable honesty about his early failings, the number of times that the business and his life was close to collapse and his difficult relationship with his youngest son and how he coped with his death.

It all started from running and throughout his life running has been his escape from the stress of building the world’s biggest challenger brand. Running track under Coach Bowerman at University of Oregon in the early 1960s, Knight realised that there was scope in the US market to import Japanese running shoes. After his studies and whilst travelling in Japan on what would now be called a gap year, Knight persuades Onitsuka Company (now Asics) in his dream and his business Blue Ribbon Sports which at the time was no more than an idea. And the story begins. The trials and tribulations of rapid growth, importing from Japan and the battle of wills between Phil Knight and his main contact at Onitsuka, an executive named Kitami. Out of this battle Nike was born. Manufactured in Japan and worn by a band of loyal and talented athletes in the US.

The book is littered with the battles that Phil Knight fought, whether it was Onitsuka, a host of bank managers or within his own team and family but ultimately focuses on how the team of friends who ran the business became a tight nit band of brothers.

It is a story well told but given that Phil Knight was one of the kings of story telling you would expect no less. The same ability he had to persuade people of the value of Nike products shines throughout this book. Despite this, the only part of the book that does not read as a story honestly told is his description of Nike using child labour in Third World Countries, although Knight does take the opportunity to explain how Nike have subsequently led the movement to improve the lives of apparel workers in the factories that it uses.

I would recommend this book for anyone interested in entrepreneurialism, sports, running and for the anecdotes featuring some of the world’s best known athletes.