Sunday, January 22, 2017

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike

Shoe Dog provides an intriguing look at Phil Knight's earl life and the launch of Nike. It pretty much ends after the IPO, only briefly touching the growth from a small company to a mega-brand. The story has many parallels to the launch of Apple (which IPO'd at the same time.) Both Knight and Steve Jobs were passionate leaders who founded the company with a "technical guy" in a lesser role. However, Knight comes across as a much more sympathetic human being. (He has plenty of flaws, but appears to actually admit they are flaws.)

Knight run track at Oregon and kept his passion for sports at Stanford, where he wrote a business plan for importing shoes from Japan. After graduating, he borrowed some money for a tour of the world and an attempt to negotiate a deal to be a dealer for a Japanese shoe company. He ended up sealing the deal (with a not yet founded company). This venture was small at first and Knight ended up working another "real" job at an accounting firm. The import business gradually grew, though there were many instances when it could have all died. (There were late shipments, wrong sizes, reluctant banks and competing distributors.) Somehow the company made it through. However, the Japanese company (which was to become Asics) eventually asked to buy Knight's company. And when he wouldn't sell, they attempted to drop their distribution agreement. This forced the company to come up with their own manufacturing. Initially the quality was horrible, but the company's earlier reputation allowed them to get by until they improved the quality. However, the expenses left the company in a challenging situation - and a lawsuit that went the right way was perhaps the only reason they survived. Even the name Nike and the swoosh were somewhat created by chance. (The name was from an employee in a remote office. The Swoosh was a graphic designer that Knight overheard talking while he was teaching at Portland State.) The company managed to survive and grow through quality product and athlete endorsements. Eventually it expanded to the behemoth it is today. (And today Nike is the big guy, with others like Under Armour being the scrappy upstart.)

Nike's story would probably not occur today. With venture capital slushing around everywhere, there would be little need to grovel to banks. A few VC rounds would be easy for the taking, and the company could quickly launch an shoe import business. It would have probably just sat there for a while. Knight would also not have been working other jobs, so would not have met his wife during the teaching job. There may not have been a need to manufacturing, and we may still be wearing Adidas today. (Interestingly, both Nike and Under Armour IPO'd about 9 years after their "founding". However, Nike had seven years of existence as blue-ribbon sports before the founding.) The key takeaway is the tenacity needed to keep going, even in the face of adversity.

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