Shoe Dog Summary

“The secret of happiness, I’d always suspected, the essence of beauty or truth, or all we ever need to know of either, lay somewhere in that moment when the ball is in midair, when both boxers sense the approach of the bell, when the runners near the finish line and the crowd rises as one. There’s a kind of exuberant clarity in that pulsing half second before winning and losing are decided. I wanted that, whatever that was, to be my life, my daily life.”

This was Phil Knight’s philosophy, growing up, before he founded one of the most iconic shoe companies of all time. 

And it all started with a Crazy Idea: To sell athletic shoes.

So that morning in 1962 he told himself: “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. 

“That’s the precocious, prescient, urgent advice I managed to give myself, out of the blue, and somehow managed to take. Half a century later, I believe it’s the best advice—may be the only advice—any of us should ever give.”

Who should read this?

  • Anyone looking to build a great business 
  • Fans of the Nike brand

Shoe Dog Key Ideas

  • Start before you are ready.
  • Fail fast, wisdom is an asset.
  • Seek a calling, not a career.
  • Life is growth. You either grow or die.
  • Life is interesting when it's challenging.
  • Don't tell people how to do things.
  • It's easy to sell something you believe in.
  • Oneness is what we are seeking.

Quick Summary of Shoe Dog

1962 - Phil had the idea to sell shoes from Japan. He pitched the crazy idea to his dad. He also said he wanted to travel the world and experience all sorts of culture. He got his best pal Carter to tag along.

They arrived in Honolulu in Sept. of 1962 and took jobs as encyclopedia salesmen. But he wasn't good at selling them so he switched selling securities.

On Thanksgiving of 1962, he left his buddy Carter (his pal met a Hawaiian woman) and continued his journey alone.

He traveled to Japan so he u When asked for the name of his company, his reply was, "Blue Ribbon". The name was derived from all the blue ribbons he won from his track running career.

His presentation revolved around undercutting Adidas in the US via lower pricing. He got the deal and the Japanese promised to ship over the first batch of Onitsuka Tiger shoes. He then quickly sent a letter to his father back in the US and asked him to wire over $50 to Onitsuka of Japan.

After his successful deal in Japan, he proceeded with his plan of traveling the world. 

On one of his trips, he visited the Temple of Nike, the goddess of victory in Greece. He recalls this trip years later when he chanced upon an old Greek play titled "The Knights". It mentioned a warrior who gifts the king a pair of shoes in the temple of Nike.

Phil partnered up with his former running coach Bill Bowerman who he looked up to next to his father.

He was a big fan of running and always tried to find ways of improving his player's shoes to improve their performance. 

Bowerman himself developed a strong relationship with the Onitsuka CEO and was soon sending the Japanese shoe manufacturer his design modifications and suggestions. 

The very popular Nike Cortez was actually the first modified shoe by Bowerman that was sent to Onitsuka.

Bowerman was the head coach of the US track team and his influence and reach helped Blue Ribbon sell Onitsuka shoes in US soil.

Aside from Bowerman, one of Knight's first employees was Jeff Johnson. A talented salesman, he sold hundreds of shoes and convinced Knight to open up their first Blue Ribbon retail store.

He was actually the one who suggested using the word Nike (he dreamed about it) and since that word also left an impression to Knight when he visited the Temple of Nike years back, he thought it was the best name for their new company (after they ended the contract with Onitsuka).

In 1973, Onitsuka tried to sue Blue Ribbon for breach of contract, saying they shouldn't have produced and distributed Nike shoes. Knight was able to counter by suing Onitsuka with trademark infringement and breach of contract. Through an informant, Knight was able to confirm that Onitsuka was indeed planning on getting another US distributor even while Blue Ribbon had an exclusive contract to sell Tiger shoes.

In 1977, Keds and Converse joined forces to cause problems for Nike (which was starting to become popular) which resulted in the US Government asking Nike to pay $25 million in taxes.

Following his trusted advisor's recommendation, he settled the claim for $9 million and avoided fighting the government. 

Knight adopted the motto of, "Grow or Die", which essentially highlights Knight's focus on growing his company via its own methods and not through an IPO. 

His desire to keep Nike's culture intact was his strongest motivator to stay away from IPO. However, taking the company public was inevitable if it was to survive financially. The damages incurred from the lawsuit from the government took its toll and Nike really needed the money to expand its operations. Knight finally decided that going the IPO route is the best way to keep Nike running. But he didn't simply take the company public. Using the idea of one of his associates, they built a structure that will allow Nike to retain much of the control over its operations and culture. 

The 90's scandal that tarnished Nike's name the most was the news about their Asian sweatshops. Essentially, Nike rented workspace and workers in Asian countries as a way to keep production costs low. Most shoe companies back then did the same thing. However, due to Nike's popularity, the news focused on Nike in order to get more views and coverage.  

Nike tried to increase the salaries of their foreign workers to compensate, but were advised against it by the Chinese government because they would end up earning more than local doctors. 

They focused on improving factory conditions instead, which led to the discovery and development of a new bonding agent that cuts out 97% of harmful toxins found in their rubber rooms. To improve the working conditions for everyone, Nike shared this new technology to other shoe manufacturers as well.

Most of Nike's athlete endorsers became personal friends of Phil. He treated them with respect and as actual persons, not merely as vessels to help him sell more shoes. When Phil's son died in an accident, all Nike endorsers either visited or gave a call to Phil to extend their condolences. 

My Personal Takeaways from Shoe Dog

Don't think too far ahead. If you want to do something, or start something, just do it. You can always realign and adjust as you go along.

Life is meant to be challenging and enjoyable, like a game.

Life is all about growing and developing, being resilient. You either grow or die. 


The Best Quotes from Shoe Dog

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”

“The cowards never started and the weak died along the way. That leaves us, ladies and gentlemen. Us.”

“The single easiest way to find out how you feel about someone. Say goodbye.”

“Life is growth. You grow or you die.”

“I’d tell men and women in their mid twenties 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.”

“When you see only problems, you’re not seeing clearly.”

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.”

“You are remembered, he said, prophetically, for the rules you break. ”

“Have faith in yourself, but also have faith in faith. Not faith as others define it. Faith as you define it. Faith as faith defines itself in your heart.”

“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.”

“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.”

“Like it or not, life is a game.”

“It’s never just business. It never will be. If it ever does become just business, that will mean that business is very bad.”

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. 

About the Author Phil Knight

Philip Hampson Knight, is an American businessman, philanthropist, and author. He co-founded and serves as the current chairman emeritus of Nike, Inc., He served as its chairman and CEO of decades.