Book notes: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight book summary review.

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



“In this candid and riveting memoir, for the first time ever, Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight shares the inside story of the company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands.

In 1962, fresh out of business school, Phil Knight borrowed fifty dollars from his father and created a company with a simple mission: import high-quality, low-cost athletic shoes from Japan. Selling the shoes from the trunk of his lime-green Plymouth Valiant, Knight grossed $8,000 his first year. Today, Nike’s annual sales top $30 billion. In an age of start-ups, Nike is the ne plus ultra of all start-ups, and the swoosh has become a revolutionary, globe-spanning icon, one of the most ubiquitous and recognizable symbols in the world today.” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

I got this primarily because it kept popping up in Audible’s recommended list and it had so many reviews. I was putting it off because it was long, but finally had time for it this month

Key notes:

  • He wanted to make his mark on the world
  • He wanted his life to be play
    • The secret of happiness he had always expected
    • The essence of beauty or truth, or all we ever need to know if either
  • Like it or not, life is a game
    • Whoever denies that truth or simply refuses to play gets left on the sidelines
  • When you run, you don’t have a real destination. At least none that can fully justify the effort
    • The act itself becomes the destination
  • Let everyone else call your idea crazy. Just keep going. Don’t stop.
    • Don’t even think about stopping until you get there. And don’t give much thought to where “there” is
    • Whatever comes, just don’t stop
  • In every religion, it seemed that the self is the obstacle, the enemy
    • And yet Zen declares plainly that the “self” doesn’t exist
  • Athena was thought to be the bringer of Nike, or victory
    • It was one of many blessings Athena bestowed
    • She also rewarded the dealmakers
  • He became business partners with his track coach Bowerman
    • He was very eccentric and always went against the grain
    • For example, He was the first college coach in America to emphasize rest
      • To place as much value on recovery as on work
  • His strategy for running the mile was simple:
    • set a fast pace for the first two laps, run the third as hard as you can, then triple your speed on the fourth
  • His mother was tough and silent, but he knew she loved him and supported his shoe endeavor
  • He realized he wasn’t selling, despite not being good at sales
    • He believed in running, and that if people ran a few miles every day, the world would be a better place
    • And he believed in these shoes
    • People sensed his belief and wanted some of that for themselves
    • He decided that belief was irresistible
  • He met a girl on Mount Fuji name Sarah and they fell in love
    • And she visited twice and they constantly wrote each other love letters
  • Wisdom seemed an intangible asset but an asset all the same, one that justified the risk
  • He started falling for one of his students Penelope
    • He also hired her as another employee
  • He and penny got engaged and he felt like he had a real partner for the first time
    • He had never said goodbye to a true partner, and it felt massively different
    • The single greatest way to find out how you feel about someone: say goodbye
  •  By nature, he was a loner, but since childhood, he thrived in team sports
    • His psyche was in true harmony when he had a mix of alone time and team time

Readers note: I think this is like me. I feel the same way. Having a balance of alone time and team time.

  • He and penny exchanged vows nearly one year to the day after she walked into his classroom
  • Life is growth. You grow or you die
    • This is what he told himself as he and penny were settling into married life and then she found herself pregnant
  • Focusing on one task clears the mind
  • Woodell’s story always reminded him that things could be worse
    • The way he handled himself was a constant bracing lesson in the virtue and value of good spirits
  • Venture capital firms started to pop up during this time
  • Confidence. More than equity or liquidity, that’s what a man needs.
  • In 1971, Kitami was pushing Phil to sell his company to Onitsuka and threatened to break their contract
    • Also, their bank decided to stop doing business with them and giving them loans
    • Problems were closing on him on every side and at $1.3 million in sales that year, they were basically on life-support
  • The idea for the name Nike came to Johnson in a dream the night prior that woke him up
    • He sent the suggestion to Phil at the very last moment
  • Shoe dogs were people who devoted themselves wholly to the making, selling, buying, or designing of shoes
  • He felt like he was in a love affair, trying to convince his lover, his new manufacturer for Nike, that he will divorce his spouse soon
    • But also trying to keep his spouse and current distributor happy
  • They had a meeting with their employees about the situation, of being cut off from their main supplier and only having Nike to rely on
    • That combined with the economic and political situation of the times, things aren’t looking good
  • Phil gave a memorable rally speech to the employees and Johnson called it “his finest hour
    • Phil said he simply told the truth, that they had a fighting chance and can win
  • No matter the sport, no matter the human endeavor, total effort will win peoples hearts
  • Like books, sports give people a sense of having lived other lives, of taking part in other peoples victories and defeats
    • When sports are at their best, the spirit of the fan merges with the spirit of the athlete
    • In that convergence, in that transference, is the oneness that the mystics talk about
  • A race is a work of art
    • People can look at and be affected in as many ways as they’re capable of understanding
  • Supply and demand is always the root problem in business
  • They won the legal battle and retain rights to the shoes and some monetary damages
  • Ito did an audit of their books then bailed them out of their banking situation and potential FBI investigation
    • Shooting straight and being transparent and likable was their strategy that worked

“Somebody may beat me, but they’re gonna have to bleed to do it” -Pre

  • Pre died from a tragic car accident at only 24 years old
    • The same age as Phil when he went to Hawaii to figure out his life
  • The Nike waffle trainer shoe took off and revolutionized the active shoe wear industry
    • It changed the game and was fundamentally different, performance and look wise
    • Retailers were begging for more so they had to ramp up production
    • They also changed their name to Nike
      • More than a brand, Nike was becoming a household name
  • The best way to reinforce your knowledge of a subject is to share it, so they both benefited from his transferring of knowledge about Asia and it’s cultures to Gorman
  • They began their expansion of getting new factories in Taiwan to produce their shoes
  • For the second time, they decided not to go public with their company after weighing the pros and cons at the end of 1976
    • They ended the fiscal year with $14 million in revenue, but were still cash poor
  • Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results
    • His management style was that he let them be and let them do, and let them make their own mistakes because that’s how he always liked people to treat him
  • Their experimentation with new shoes wise progressive and forward thinking
    • Their experimenting did not phase their fans loyalty
  • When you see only problems, you’re not seeing clearly
  • They were the first American shoemaker in 25 years to be allowed to do business in China
  • When you make something, improve something, deliver something, add some new thing or service to the lives of strangers making them happy or healthier or safer or better, and when you do it all crisply and efficiently/smartly, the way everything should be done, but so seldom is, you are participating more fully in the whole vast human drama
    • More than simply alive, you’re helping others to live more fully. And if that’s business, all right, call me a businessman
  • The cowards never started, and the weak died along the way. That leaves us.
    • They got their asking price of $22/share, same as Apple that year
  • It 2007 he bumped into Bill Gates and Warren Buffett at a movie theater after watching the bucket list
    • At the time he was worth $10 billion and they were worth 5 to 6 times more than that
  • After 40 years, he stepped down as Nike CEO. The year prior in 2006, sales were $16 billion
    • Adidas was 10 billion but who’s counting?
  • There are many coincidences just like banners of Jordan, Kobe, and tiger, and also his trips around the world before then
    • Every Nike office phone number ends in 6453, which spells out Nike, but is also Pre’s best time in a mile
      • He believes that some coincidences may be more than coincidental
  • He believes that the most vital human emotion after love is gratitude
  • You could argue that it’s all been about taking a chance on people
  • He recalls Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi celebrating their wins with him
  • His son Matthew eventually died in a scuba diving accident
    • Every single Nike athlete called and wrote and supported them during this time
  • Although his parents’ relationship with each other was strained, their lasting victory and legacy was that they cared for their kids
  • It’s never just business, it never will be. If it ever does become just business, that will mean that business is very bad

“You measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you” –The Bucket List

  • To study the self is to forget the self
    • Mi Casa Su Casa
    • Oneness, in some way shape or form, it’s what every person he’s ever met has been seeking
  • After the sweatshop factory crisis, they knew they had to hold themselves to a higher standard
    • They created a new bonding agent that eliminated 97% of the carcinogens in manufacturing, and gladly gave it away to their competitors as well
      • They became the dominant player in the factory reform refinement
    • Today, the factories that make their products are among the best in the world
  • Trade is the path of coexistence, cooperation
    • Peace feeds on prosperity
    • Maxim: When goods don’t pass international borders, soldiers will
  • When the money came rolling in, it affected them all but not much and not for long
    • This is because they were never driven by money. But that’s the nature of money
      • Whether you have it or not, where do you want it or not, whether you like it or not. It will try to define your days
      • Our task as human beings is not to let it

Readers note: It’s crazy how Phil really never was driven by money. It was a necessity to grow the business, but he was obsessive about pouring all of that growth back into the business and living on the edge. It was never about safety or trying to make money for himself. But now he has a lot of money even though he only focused on growing his company and making the world a better place. It reminds me of a Gary Vaynerchuk video where he said “the way to make sure you don’t buy the Porsche company is to buy a Porsche.”

  • They’ve built an athletic facility dedicated to their mothers
    • On a plaque will have the inscription: because mothers are our first coaches
    • He reflects on how his mother always supported him in everything he did
  • He would tell people on their journey to hit pause
    • Think long and hard about how they want to spend their time and with whom they want to spend it for the next 40 years
    • He tells people in their 20s not to settle for a job or profession or career
      • To seek a calling, even if you don’t know what that means
        • If you are following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear
        • The disappointments will be fuel
        • The highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt
  • He’d like to warn the best of them, the iconoclasts, the innovators, the rebels, that they will always have a bulls-eye on their backs
    • The better they get, the bigger the bull’s-eye
    • It’s not one man’s opinion, it’s a law of nature
  • Entrepreneurs have always been outgunned, outnumbered
    • They’ve always fought uphill, and the hill has never been steeper
    • America is becoming less entrepreneurial, not more
  • Sometimes you have to give up
    • Sometimes knowing when to give up and when to try something else is genius
    • Giving up doesn’t mean stopping. Don’t ever stop
  • Luck plays a big role
    • Hard work is critical, a good team is essential, brains and determination are invaluable
    • But luck may decide the outcome
      • Some people may call it many things like spirit or God
      • He believes the harder you work, the better your Tao
  • Have faith in yourself but also have faith in faith
    • Not faith as others define it but how you define it


  • Running:
    • Phil or Johnson would go on runs whenever things were good or bad. A way to clear his mind. He believed in his heart that if everyone ran a few miles a day, the world would be a better place
    • “When you run, there is no destination. The act itself is the destination”
    • Just keep going. “Don’t ever stop”
  • Telling the truth and shooting straight:
    • “Radical Honesty” as Ray Dalio puts it in his book Principles
    • They did so with their partners, each other, stakeholders, and customers
  • Not being afraid to make mistakes & constant growth
    • They did things themselves and learned as they went
    • Wisdom seemed an intangible asset but an asset all the same, one that justified the risk”
  • Having a higher purpose & confidence
    • After a while, it wasn’t just about the shoes or making money. But to make the world a better place. Even when founders like Johnson or Bowerman were designing shoes, it was simply to create a better shoe for athletes
    • “Confidence, more than equity or liquidity, is what a man needs”
    • These are what will get you through tough times
    • “Shoe dog” is someone who devotes him/herself wholly to shoes
  • Relying on others:
    • Whether it be his family at first (his dad and mom), his friends, partners, or outsiders to bail him out, he relied upon and had a lot of faith in the relationships he built. And those relationships would serve him many times along the way
  • Sports connects people
    • “Sports give people a sense of having lived other lives, of taking part in other peoples victories and defeats”

Closing thoughts:

Another fantastic book. I honestly didn’t think it would be this good, but it was such a fascinating story. Moreover, there were so many gold nuggets of wisdom, especially towards the end of the book.

My favorite type of books are usually those that follow some sort of narrative or story, but the lessons and themes run so deep that they’re hard to ignore. This is why I really like biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs. But overall, I’d say this book was so solid, I didn’t want it to end.

There were so many strong themes, there’s so much to digest. This book also really made me want to go running or at least become a consistent runner. It also made me want to visit Portland or Oregon in general. I think if its anything like Seattle and Washington, I’d love it there.


Phil Knight recounts the story of Nike and his lifelong journey as a “shoe dog”.


5/5 shoe dogs

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