A Shoe Dog is a person who is right into shoes according to the biography of the same name, written by Phil Knight, co-founder of shoe and apparel behemoth Nike.
The chapters are broken into years, from Phil’s early days post-college as a Stanford graduate with an idea in 1962 to the IPO of Nike in 1980, an IPO that made Phil $178 Million on the day of offering. Phil Knight now has the prestige of being one of the 15 richest men in the world, with an estimated net worth of $24.4 Billion, so his biography would certainly appeal to any person interested in the rise of an individual from middle class graduate to a multi-billionaire.
One of the things that I found most interesting about the Shoe Dog story is that it covers nearly 20 years of the beginning of Nike, from its origins as a Japanese shoe retailer called ‘Blue Ribbon Sports’ to the largest shoe and apparel retailer in the USA, eventually overtaking rival Adidas. 20 years, starting with Phil as a 24-year-old with a brand-new MBA. He doesn’t really actually even get any product until he is 26, so by the time things are moving he is in his early 30’s.
With so much focus on modern day rags-to-riches tales from the dot com boom era, I appreciate the fact that reading through Phil’s memoir, he doesn’t really achieve independently wealthy status until the IPO in his 40’s. The book is littered with commentary on how hard cash flow was to maintain, how much difficulty they faced maintaining lines of credit during the relentless growth of the company. Nike nearly went under a couple of times, and they narrowly avoided losing everything in those moments.
Phil comments that his own leadership style is one where he offers little encouragement, and by his own admission he was a hard task master even to the very loyal and true-to-the-cause employees who put themselves out for the company time and time again. An absent father, he briefly touches on the familial impact of being an absent, company-focused man and what that meant to his children.
I think that some people will read this memoir as an indication that if you have a dream it’s possible to achieve it, but in the 380 pages of the book you can forget that it is actually decades of hard work, uncertainty and relentless grind. Not to mention two University degrees, part time work, shitty offices, some shady dealings, being a bit dodgy, scrounging for cash and literally betting the house time and time again.
My reading of Shoe Dog further validates my belief that there are only a select few who can not only maintain a vision for the long term (I would consider 20 years a long term vision) and maintain a steadfast grind towards it regardless of external circumstances.
Personally, I admire his grind and tenacity, but I aspire to be less the admonishing, give-no-praise CEO of the Phil Knight/Steve Jobs style, than a more giving, generous CEO like Lars Sorensen. Nike is no doubt one of the iconic brands, and to see it come together in the pages of the book you realise it took a lot of hard work, some luck, the right people and the right timing. It is not something that can be replicated, only self-awareness about what you are willing to sacrifice to dominate an industry can guide your progress.
If you are interested in business building from scratch, Nike, wealthy people or how long it might take to make your first $100 Million, even when you are double sales year on year for over a decade, grab it and give it a read. If nothing else it is a good yarn. I’d be interested to hear what other people think of this one!
Keep reading, keep working hard and as always, Just Be Nice.
Josh Reid Jones - Founder of The Just Be Nice Project and Odin Sports