As Christmas of 1984 approached, I looked forward to one thing. My elder brother, Dave, was coming home from college. Yes, I was excited to see him, since Minnesota is a long way from Germany and communication was not what it is today. I, however, had another motive for wishing him home quicker: Dave was bringing home my first pair of Nike running shoes which were, at the time, unavailable in Germany. When I heard that Nike founder Phil Knight had a book out, I was almost as eager to read his story as I was to lace up that first pair of his running shoes.
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight was one of those books where I had to try incredibly hard to find something that I didn’t like. This nonfiction book tells the story of Phil, otherwise known as the guy who created the Nike shoe and sportswear empire. I am not a fan of autobiographies; in general, I find them either self-aggrandizing or a stilted coverup job. Phil’s book is neither.
In order to set the stage so the reader understands his background, Phil tells a bit about his suburban upbringing, his relationship with the sport of running and some of its legends, his education, and how the idea to build a shoe business grew out of a college presentation assignment that most of his classmates dozed through. Phil never put the idea on the back-burner, though, and a gap-year trip around the world included a stint in Japan, where he pitched the idea to a group of executives at a shoe factory. The rest, as they say, is history. A very rocky history.
Phil’s story is inspirational not because he built an empire, but because of everything he had to go through along the way. Readers will marvel at Phil’s grit as they follow his very unconventional management style. While his practices might make your average MBA cringe, they show that, in Phil’s case at least, following your gut, respecting others (their oddities and quirks included), and building a culture of creative collaboration can build something amazing.
From a mechanical standpoint, the book is well put together. The story flows so well it is difficult to quit reading, or in my case, listening. Narrator Norbert Leo Butz is the perfect teller of this story. His voice is engaging, grasping Phil’s dry wit and letting the reader feel the heart at the center of the narrative. It is one of those first person narrations where you feel like the author is narrating the book and pulling you in with warmth and confidences. I’d highly recommend the audio of this one.
Whether you have ever laced up a pair of Nike shoes or not, the company is so dominant in our culture that I think all readers would enjoy learning the inside scoop on the megalithic sportswear company. Readers with a business background will find much of interest in Phil’s candid sharing of the mistakes he made along the way and how, time and again, he made unconventional choices that pulled his company back from the brink of ruin.