Shoe King - Phil Knight

Assets equal liabilities plus equity.

This memoir documents much of Phil Knight’s role in founding Nike and his struggles keeping his fledgling company afloat.

My key takeaway, and what stands out, is that Phil Knight’s passion for shoes is evident throughout this book. His dream since leaving college was to sell running shoes. This was his pole star in every decision he made - from importing Onitsukas to manufacturing to keeping his cash-poor company private to preserve culture and eventually taking it public. Despite the many struggles, he seems to pull through.

This book has given me new admiration for the whole process behind what goes into a shoe company like Nike and an understanding of why it is a significant brand.

Traveling the World

As I started reading the first few chapters, I got a sense that Phil Knight must have had a privileged upbringing, or at the very least, he grew up in an era with far fewer economic problems than today. As a Stanford graduate, he decides to forgo finding a job and travels the world on his father’s dime. He heads to Japan, South East Asia, India, and Europe.

Phil visits the Acropolis, where a Frieze of the following moment supposedly existed -

On my right was the Temple of Athena Nike. Twenty-five centuries ago, per my guidebook, it had housed a beautiful frieze of the goddess Athena, thought to be the bringer of “nike,” or victory.

He writes how he was captivated by the shoes in most of these paintings and statues.

Phil Knight planned on establishing an import business selling Onitsuka Running shoes. As a distance runner, he was well acquainted with running shoes and knew there would be a market for good quality shoes in the US, even though Adidas and Puma dominated the markets. Additionally, his timing is perfect as he travels to Japan and gains very early access to the Japanese executives, allowing him to establish an early relationship and be the “first to market” as a reseller in the American market.

Mr. Onitsuka also told Bowerman that the inspiration for the unique soles on Tigers had come to him while eating sushi. Looking down at his wooden platter, at the underside of an octopus’s leg, he thought a similar suction cup might work on the sole of a runner’s flat. Bowerman filed that away. Inspiration, he learned, can come from quotidian things. Things you might eat. Or find lying around the house.

Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Running and managing a shoe company that was merely an import business was hard work. The company's early days were spent managing the relationships with the Japanese executives at Onitsuka. He was the sole importer of Onitsuka shoes, and this exclusivity helped him build his company.

Exclusivity is a thing of the past. These days, everyone will copy you. Competition to stay relevant is harsh.

The Japanese may have been rightfully cautious in dealing with him because his company was still struggling to make payroll even though he was doubling sales.

Quotes I Liked

On rethinking -

But first I’d need to change my whole approach. I was a linear thinker, and according to Zen linear thinking is nothing but a delusion, one of the many that keep us unhappy. Reality is nonlinear, Zen says. No future, no past. All is now.

On hiring mostly accountants (himself included)

Most had also demonstrated basic competence. When you hired an accountant, you knew he or she could count. When you hired a lawyer, you knew he or she could talk. When you hired a marketing expert, or product developer, what did you know? Nothing. You couldn’t predict what he or she could do, or if he or she could do anything. And the typical business school graduate? He or she didn’t want to start out with a bag selling shoes. Plus, they all had zero experience, so you were simply rolling the dice based on how well they did in an interview. We didn’t have enough margin for error to roll the dice on anyone.

On winning the support of his home Senator -

“Senator,” I said, “we were not prepared for you to be so obliging today. The truth is, we don’t know what we want. We’ll have to get back to you.”

On symbolism -

Jordan. Kobe. Tiger. Again, I can’t help but think of my trip around the world. The River Jordan. Mystical Kobe, Japan. That first meeting at Onitsuka

On becoming rich -

WHEN IT CAME rolling in, the money affected us all. Not much, and not for long, because none of us was ever driven by money. But that’s the nature of money. Whether you have it or not, whether 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.

On not settling -

I’d tell men and women in their midtwenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re 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.