Log out
My profile and settings
My bookmarks
Comment history
Please complete your account verification. Resend verification email.
today
This verification token has expired.
today
Your email address has been verified. Update my profile.
today
Your account has been deactivated. Sign in to re-activate your account.
today
View all newsletters in the newsletter archive
today
You are now unsubscribed from receiving emails.
today
Sorry, we were unable to unsubscribe you at this time.
today
0
0
Back to profile
Comment Items
You have not left any comments yet.
title
in reply to
name
description
Saved Posts
You haven’t bookmarked any posts yet.
“Tara’s process of self-discovery is beautifully captured in Educated.”
read more
Become a Gates Notes Insider
Sign up
Personal Information
Title
Mr
Mrs
Ms
Miss
Mx
Dr
Cancel
Save
This email is already registered
Cancel
Save
Please verify email address. Click verification link sent to this email address or resend verification email.
Cancel
Save
Address
Cancel
Save
Email and Notification Settings
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
On
Off
Send me Gates Notes survey emails
On
Off
Send me the weekly Top of Mind newsletter
On
Off
Email me comment notifications
On
Off
On-screen comment notifications
On
Off
Interests
Select interests to personalize your profile and experience on Gates Notes.
Saving Lives
Energy Innovation
Improving Education
Alzheimer's
Philanthropy
Book Reviews
About Bill Gates
Account Deactivation
Click the link below to begin the account deactivation process.
If you would like to permanently delete your Gates Notes account and remove it’s content, please send us a request here.
Sole Man
An honest tale of what it takes to succeed in business
Phil Knight opens up in a way few CEOs do in his candid memoir about creating the Nike shoe empire.
|
0

Many books I’ve read about entrepreneurs follow a common, and I believe misleading, storyline. It goes like this: A sharp entrepreneur gets a world-changing idea, develops a clear business strategy, recruits a crack team of partners, and together they rocket to fame and riches. Reading these accounts, I’m always struck by how they make their achievements appear to be the inevitable result of some great prescience or unusual skill. It’s no wonder publishers churn out “how-to” titles packed with tidy checklists, 5-step programs, and other simplistic recipes for entrepreneurial success.

Shoe Dog, Phil Knight’s memoir about creating Nike, is a refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like. It’s a messy, perilous, and chaotic journey riddled with mistakes, endless struggles, and sacrifice. In fact, the only thing that seems inevitable in page after page of Knight’s story is that his company will end in failure.

Failure, of course, is about the last thing people would associate with Nike today. The company’s sales top $30 billion and Nike’s swoosh is one of the most universally recognized logos across the globe. Walk down almost any street in the world and you’ll likely find someone wearing a pair of Nikes. But Knight brings readers back more than 50 years to the incredibly humble and fragile beginnings of the company when he started selling imported Japanese athletic footwear out of the back of his Plymouth Valiant.

I’ve met Knight a few times over the years. He’s super nice, but also very quiet. Like many other people who’ve met him, I found him difficult to get to know. As famous as his company has become, Knight was a mystery among Fortune 500 executives.

In the pages of Shoe Dog, however, Knight opens up in a way few CEOs are willing to do. He’s incredibly tough on himself and his failings. He doesn’t fit the mold of the bold, dashing entrepreneur. He’s shy, introverted, and often insecure. He’s given to nervous ticks—snapping rubber bands on his wrist and hugging himself when stressed in business negotiations. It took him weeks to tell Penny, the woman who would become his wife, that he liked her. And yet, in spite of or perhaps because of his unusual character traits, he was able to realize the “Crazy Idea,” as he calls it, to do something different with his life and create his own shoe company.

Knight’s interest in shoes started at the University of Oregon, where he ran track for legendary running coach Bill Bowerman. He then went to Stanford for his MBA, where he wrote a paper about the potential market for importing Japanese athletic shoes to the U.S. At the time, Japanese cameras were making a dent in the German-dominated camera market. Why not do the same with Japanese running shoes which he thought could compete against leading German athletic shoe makers Adidas and Puma?

So far, this storyline may feel familiar. It’s the myth of the young entrepreneur with a world-changing idea who is headed down a straight path to success. But the rest of Knight’s journey rips that myth to shreds.

Much of the suspense in the book is built by the precarious nature of Knight’s finances. He started his shoe import business, known then as Blue Ribbon Sports, with $50 from his father. It was the beginning of many years of living in debt. Year after year, he goes on his knees to his bankers to beg for more credit so he could import more Japanese shoes. He rarely had any savings in the bank because he would plow all of his profits back into the company to order more shoes from Japan. Even as sales of his shoes took off, his business was constantly on life support. Meanwhile, he had a rocky relationship with his Japanese shoe supplier, whose executives were constantly eyeing other potential U.S. partners, despite Knight’s success selling and helping to improve the designs of their shoes. Eventually, Knight broke away and started Nike, beginning another round of uncertainty.

Knight is amazingly honest about the accidental nature of his company’s success. Consider the famous Nike swoosh. He paid an art student $35 to design it, but he didn’t recognize what a special logo it would become. “It’ll have to do,” he said at the time. The decision to call the company Nike was also not Knight’s top choice. He wanted to name it Dimension Six, but his employees pushed him to choose Nike. At the time, Knight agreed but he was not convinced. “Maybe it will grow on us,” he said.

When I was starting Microsoft I was fortunate enough that I was entering a business that didn’t have such tight margins. I didn’t struggle with banks to get financing as Knight did. I also didn’t need to struggle with the large factories, which I wish Knight spent more time explaining. After reading close to 400 pages about the shoe business, I was disappointed that I didn’t learn more about what it takes to manufacture an athletic shoe: what are all the parts of the shoe? which ones are difficult to manufacture and why?

What I identified most with from his story were the odd mix of employees Knight pulled together to help him start his company. Among them, a former track star paralyzed after a boating accident, an overweight accountant, and a salesman who obsessively wrote letters to Knight (to which Knight never responded). They were not the people you would expect to represent a sportswear company. It reminded me of my very early days at Microsoft. Like Knight, we pulled together a group of people with weird sets of skills. They were problem solvers and people who shared a common passion to make the company a success. We all worked hard, but it was also lots and lots of fun.

Readers looking for a lesson from Knight’s book may leave this book disappointed. I don’t think Knight sets out to teach the reader anything. There are no tips or checklists. Instead, Knight accomplishes something better. He tells his story as honestly as he can. It’s an amazing tale. It’s real. And you’ll understand in the final pages why, despite all of the hardships he experienced along the way, Knight says, “God, how I wish I could relive the whole thing.”

Read this next
NEXT
Comments
posting ...
Please verify your email in order to make comments. Click here to resend verification email
Sorry, duplicate comments are not allowed. 
Sorry, that HTML is not allowed. 
Sorry, something went wrong. 
In order to comment you must be a Gates Notes Insider. Please sign up or log in to continue. 
Be the first to leave a comment.
Comment Locked
Comments more than 2 months old are locked. For more information, contact us.
Report
Delete Comment?
Deleting this comment will remove replies to this comment by you and others as well. This action cannot be undone.
Delete Comment
Why do you want to report this comment?
It's annoying or not interesting
It's abusive and/or vulgar
It's spam
Report Comment
Your report has been submitted.
Close
Save
Cancel
Thanks for visiting the Gates Notes.
We'd like your feedback. Yes, I'll take the survey No thanks
Become a Gates Notes Insider
Join the Gates Notes community to access exclusive content, comment on stories, participate in giveaways, and more.
SIGN UP
Already joined?
Log in
Logout:


Become a Gates Notes Insider
Become a Gates Notes Insider
Join the Gates Notes community to access exclusive content, comment on stories, participate in giveaways, and more.
Already joined? Log in
LOG IN
SIGN UP
Use your social account:
Or sign up with email:
Title
Mr
Mrs
Ms
Miss
Mx
Dr
This email is already registered. Enter a new email, try signing in or retrieve your password
Why are we collecting this information? Gates Notes may send a welcome note or other exclusive Insider mail from time to time. Additionally, some campaigns and content may only be available to users in certain areas. Gates Notes will never share and distribute your information with external parties.
Bill may send you a welcome note or other exclusive Insider mail from time to time. We will never share your information.
Sign up
We will never share or spam your email address. For more information see our Sign Up FAQ. By clicking "Sign Up" you agree to the Gates Notes Terms of Use / Privacy Policy.
Street address
City
postal_town
State Zip code
administrative_area_level_2
Country
Data
Gates Notes Insider Sign Up FAQ

Q. How do I create a Gates Notes account?

A. There are three ways you can create a Gates Notes account:

  • Sign up with Facebook. We’ll never post to your Facebook account without your permission.
  • Sign up with Twitter. We’ll never post to your Twitter account without your permission.
  • Sign up with your email. Enter your email address during sign up. We’ll email you a link for verification.

Q. Will you ever post to my Facebook or Twitter accounts without my permission?

A. No, never.

Q. How do I sign up to receive email communications from my Gates Notes account?

A. In Account Settings, click the toggle switch next to “Send me updates from Bill Gates.”

Q. How will you use the Interests I select in Account Settings?

A. We will use them to choose the Suggested Reads that appear on your profile page.

BACK
Forgot your password?
Enter the email you used to sign up and a reset password link will be sent to you.
This email is already registered. Enter a new email, try signing in or retrieve your password
Reset Password
Reset your password.
Set New Password
Your password has been reset. Please continue to the log in page.
Log in
Get emails from Bill Gates
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
On
Off
Email me comment notifications
On
Off
On-screen comment notifications
On
Off
This email is already registered
Finish
We will never share or spam your email address. For more information see our Sign up FAQ. By clicking "Continue" you agree to the Gates Notes Terms of Use / Privacy Policy.
You're in!
You're in!
Please check your email and click the link provided to verify your account.
Didn't get an email from us? Resend verification email
Upload a profile picture
Choose image to upload
Uploading...
Uh Oh!
The image you are trying to upload is either too big or is an unacceptable format. Please upload a .jpg or .png image that is under 25MB.
Ok
Title
Mr
Mrs
Ms
Miss
Mx
Dr
Cancel
Save
This email is already registered
Cancel
Save
Please verify email address. Click verification link sent to this email address or resend verification email.
Email and notification settings
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
On
Off
Email me comment notifications
On
Off
On-screen comment notifications
On
Off
Select your interests
Saving Lives
Energy Innovation
Improving Education
Alzheimer's
Philanthropy
Book Reviews
About Bill Gates
Finish
Confirm Account Deactivation
Are you sure you want to deactivate your account?
Deactivating your account will unsubscribe you from Gates Notes emails, and will remove your profile and account information from public view on the Gates Notes. Please allow for 24 hours for the deactivation to fully process. You can sign back in at any time to reactivate your account and restore its content.
Deactivate My Acccount
Go Back
Your Gates Notes account has been deactivated.
Come back anytime.
Welcome back
In order to unsubscribe you will need to sign-in to your Gates Notes Insider account
Once signed in just go to your Account Settings page and set your subscription options as desired.
Sign In
Request account deletion
We’re sorry to see you go. Your request may take a few days to process; we want to double check things before hitting the big red button. Requesting an account deletion will permanently remove all of your profile content. If you’ve changed your mind about deleting your account, you can always hit cancel and deactivate instead.
Submit
Cancel
Thank You! Your request has been sent