Book Summary: 'Shoe Dog' by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog

Phil Knight (@NikeUnleash|Wikipedia)

Co-founder & creator of Nike.
All-American businessman & octogenarian.
26th richest person in the world.


To start with, this book is very easy to consume. The storytelling is smooth & takes you on a nice journey. I was able to finish this book within 24 hours, on Christmas Day 2020.

The book tells the story of a young Phil Knight leaving home and trying to figure out what to do with his life. After becoming interested in importing Onitsuka Tigers (who wouldn’t!), he managed to score a meeting with Mr Onitsuka, and started his importation/distribution business: Blue Ribbon (so named after the copious amounts of blue ribbons hanging in his childhood bedroom).

The majority of the book focusses on the trials and tribulations of Blue Ribbon, growing his distribution and conflicting with competing importers (“Marlboro Man”), as well as the founding members of what was to later become Nike.

It was nice to read about the background behind the Nike name, as short & undistingished as it was (spoiler: a fly-by-night idea from his sales rep), and some of the challenges that Phil had getting started & his acceptance of his conflicting management styles with regard to his early employees.

The book largely skips the explosive growth & business management skills that would be required at Nike after the first few hundred employees, deferring that responsibility to others left Phil disappointed & disjointed (& inevitably busy on larger projects), but I got the feeling that Phil was also relieved that it wasn’t “his problem to solve”.

Wait for the part about a successful shoe importer sitting forelonely in a baseball mitt chair staring off into the distance after the sudden death of his 34 year old son if you want to feel emotion for a lonely CEO!

I wouldn’t class this as a typical “management book”, or anything that is on the shelf to try and teach you a lesson about how to run a company of this size, but it definitely was an interesting read and although largely unrelatable for me, I appreciate the story as it was told. I can understand why this was classified as a memorable memoir.

Overall, the book was enjoyable, straightforward, and told with a nice sense of self-awareness. I really appreciated the read and would recommend it to someone looking to learn more about the early-early days of Nike/Blue Ribbon.

Further Reading?