Shoe dog - by Phil Knight


Shoe dog - by Phil Knight

Read: 2016-12-25

Recommend: 10/10

Since high school, I’ve been familiar with two sports brands, Nike and Adidas. This book provides an in-depth look into Nike’s journey, focusing primarily on its history before becoming a public company. It highlighted the potential reasons for the failure of many companies, suggesting that Nike could have been among those failures. Yet, it was the combination of luck and determination within the team that propelled Nike to its present success.


Here are some text that I highlighted in the book:

  1. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.—Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

  2. Every runner knows this. You run and run, mile after mile, and you never quite know why. You tell yourself that you’re running toward some goal, chasing some rush, but really you run because the alternative, stopping, scares you to death. So that morning in 1962 I told myself: 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.

  3. Finally, as required, I’d given a formal presentation of the paper to my classmates, who reacted with formal boredom. Not one asked a single question. They greeted my passion and intensity with labored sighs and vacant stares.

  4. I was aware that twenty-six of twenty-seven new companies failed,

  5. But he also worshipped another secret deity—respectability. Colonial house, beautiful wife, obedient kids, my father enjoyed having these things, but what he really cherished was his friends and neighbors knowing he had them. He liked being admired.

  6. He said that he always regretted not traveling more when he was young. He said a trip might be just the finishing touch to my education.

  7. I thanked my father and fled the nook before he had a chance to change his mind.

  8. It was my first real awareness that not everyone in this world will like us, or accept us, that we’re often cast aside at the very moment we most need to be included.

  9. In every religion, it seemed, self is the obstacle, the enemy. And yet Zen declares plainly that the self doesn’t exist. Self is a mirage, a fever dream, and our stubborn belief in its reality not only wastes life, but shortens it. Self is the bald-faced lie we tell ourselves daily, and happiness requires seeing through the lie, debunking it. To study the self, said the thirteenth-century Zen master Dogen, is to forget the self. Inner voice, outer voices, it’s all the same. No dividing lines.

  10. “is don’t be pushy. Don’t come on like the typical asshole American, the typical gaijin—rude, loud, aggressive, not taking no for an answer. The Japanese do not react well to the hard sell. Negotiations here tend to be soft, sinewy.

  11. Look how long it took the Americans and Russians to coax Hirohito into surrendering.

  12. No one ever turns you down flat. No one ever says, straight out, no. But they don’t say yes, either. They speak in circles, sentences with no clear subject or object. Don’t be discouraged, but don’t be cocky. You might leave a man’s office thinking you’ve blown it, when in fact he’s ready to do a deal. You might leave thinking you’ve closed a deal, when in fact you’ve just been rejected. You never know.”

  13. I didn’t know how to acknowledge their kei. To bow or not bow, that is always the question in Japan. I gave a weak smile and a half bow, and kept moving.

  14. The realist in me wanted to acknowledge it, the idealist in me pushed it aside.

  15. They showed me three different models of Tigers. A training shoe, which they called a Limber Up. “Nice,” I said. A high-jump shoe, which they called a Spring Up. “Lovely,” I said. And a discus shoe, which they called a Throw Up. Do not laugh, I told myself. Do not . . . laugh.

  16. Michelangelo was miserable while painting his masterpiece. His back and neck ached. Paint fell constantly into his hair and eyes. He couldn’t wait to be finished, he told friends. If even Michelangelo didn’t like his work, I thought, what hope is there for the rest of us?

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

  18. On my left was the Parthenon, which Plato had watched the teams of architects and workmen build. 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.

  19. Aristophanes play, set in the Temple of Nike, in which the warrior gives the king a gift—a pair of new shoes. I don’t know when I figured out that the play was called Knights.

  20. deal. No, what you want to do, while you’re young, is get your CPA. That, along with your MBA, will put a solid floor under your earnings. Then, when you change jobs, which you will, trust me, at least you’ll maintain your salary level. You won’t go backward.”

  21. I needed nine more hours to even qualify to take the exam. So I quickly enrolled in three accounting classes at Portland State. “More school?” my father grumbled. Worse, the school in question wasn’t Stanford or Oregon. It was puny little Portland State.

  22. I wasn’t the only school snob in the family.

  23. It got me on Day One. From the moment I arrived at the University of Oregon, in August 1955, I loved Bowerman. And feared him. And neither of these initial impulses ever went away, they were always there between us. I never stopped loving the man, and I never found a way to shed the old fear. Sometimes the fear was less, sometimes more, sometimes it went right down to my shoes, which he’d probably cobbled with his bare hands. Love and fear—the same binary emotions governed the dynamic between me and my father. I wondered sometimes if it was mere coincidence that Bowerman and my father—both cryptic, both alpha, both inscrutable—were both named Bill.

  24. And yet the two men were driven by different demons. My father, the son of a butcher, was always chasing respectability, whereas Bowerman, whose father had been governor of Oregon, didn’t give a darn for respectability.

  25. He detested being called Coach. Given his background, his makeup, he naturally thought of track as a means to an end. He called himself a “Professor of Competitive Responses,” and his job, as he saw it, and often described it, was to get you ready for the struggles and competitions that lay ahead, far beyond Oregon.

  26. I always tiptoed around Bowerman.

  27. “Well, as coach of this team I’m telling you to get your ass out there. And by the way . . . we’re going to have a time trial today.” I was close to tears. But I held it together, channeled all my emotion into my run, and posted one of my best times

  28. As I walked off the track I glowered at Bowerman. Happy now, you son of a—? He looked at me, checked his stopwatch, looked at me again, nodded. He’d tested me. He’d broken me down and remade me, just like a pair of shoes. And I’d held up. Thereafter, I was truly one of his Men of Oregon. From that day on, I was a tiger.

  29. In many ways they were the classic case of opposites attracting. My mother, tall, stunning, a lover of the outdoors, was always seeking places to regain some lost inner peace. My father, small, average with thick rimless glasses to correct his 20-450 vision, was engaged in a daily, noisome battle to overcome his past, to become respectable, mainly through academics and hard work. Second in his law school class, he never tired of complaining about the one C on his transcript. (He felt the professor penalized him for his political beliefs.) When their diametrically opposed personalities caused problems, my parents would fall back on the thing they had most deeply in common, their belief that family comes first. When that consensus didn’t work, there were difficult days. And nights. My father turned to drink. My mother turned to stone.

  30. Her façade could be deceiving, however. Dangerously so. People assumed from her silence that she was meek, and she’d often remind them, in startling ways, that she was not.

  31. To my father’s horror, and my mother’s subversive delight, I quit my job at the accounting firm, and all that spring I did nothing but sell shoes out of the trunk of my Valiant.

  32. Driving back to Portland I’d puzzle over my sudden success at selling. I’d been unable to sell encyclopedias, and I’d despised it to boot. I’d been slightly better at selling mutual funds, but I’d felt dead inside. So why was selling shoes so different? Because, I realized, it wasn’t selling. I believed in running. I believed that if people got out and ran a few miles every day, the world would be a better place, and I believed these shoes were better to run in. People, sensing my belief, wanted some of that belief for themselves.

  33. The Bank of Dad, he said, is now closed.

  34. The art of competing, I’d learned from track, was the art of forgetting, and I now reminded myself of that fact. You must forget your limits. You must forget your doubts, your pain, your past. You must forget that internal voice screaming, begging, “Not one more step!” And when it’s not possible to forget it, you must negotiate with it. I thought over all the races in which my mind wanted one thing, and my body wanted another, those laps in which I’d had to tell my body, “Yes, you raise some excellent points, but let’s keep going anyway . . .”

  35. “happiness is a how, not a what.”

  36. In fact, in 1965, running wasn’t even a sport. It wasn’t popular, it wasn’t unpopular—it just was. To go out for a three-mile run was something weirdos did, presumably to burn off manic energy. Running for pleasure, running for exercise, running for endorphins, running to live better and longer—these things were unheard of.

  37. People often went out of their way to mock runners. Drivers would slow down and honk their horns. “Get a horse!”

  38. To have cash balances sitting around doing nothing made no sense to me. Sure, it would have been the cautious, conservative, prudent thing. But the roadside was littered with cautious, conservative, prudent entrepreneurs. I wanted to keep my foot pressed hard on the gas pedal.

  39. “Between us, Bill, if the kid’s company goes under—you’ll still back him, right?” “Hell no,” my father said.

  40. Fight not to win, but to avoid losing. A surefire losing strategy.

  41. War is the most extreme of conditions. But business has its warlike parallels. Someone somewhere once said that business is war without bullets, and I tended to agree.

  42. Fail fast.

  43. I was putting in six days a week at Price Waterhouse, spending early mornings and late nights and all weekends and vacations at Blue Ribbon. No friends, no exercise, no social life—and wholly content. My life was out of balance, sure, but I didn’t care.

  44. I wanted to focus constantly on the one task that really mattered. If my life was to be all work and no play, I wanted my work to be play.

  45. Puma and Adidas throughout the Games. The world’s two biggest athletic shoe companies—run by two German brothers who despised each other—

  46. He didn’t finish the sentence. His voice trailed off, and I was left to fill the silence with worst-case scenarios.

  47. Churchill’s voice. You ask, What is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory.

  48. shoe dog. I’d heard this phrase a few times. Shoe dogs were people who devoted themselves wholly to the making, selling, buying, or designing of shoes.

  49. The hell’s a swoosh? The answer flew out of me: It’s the sound of someone going past you.

  50. Like books, sports give people a sense of having lived other lives, of taking part in other people’s victories. And defeats

  51. The cowards never started and the weak died along the way—that leaves us.

  52. At the close of those difficult days, it was my nightly six-mile run that saved my life. And then it was my brief time with Matthew and Penny that preserved my sanity. I’d always try to find the time and energy to tell Matthew his bedtime story.

  53. We’re going to win, Buck. That magical pronoun, “we”—he’d always use it, and it would always make me feel better.

  54. Blue Ribbon has been more truthful, he said, not only throughout the dispute, as evidenced by documents, but in this courtroom. “Truthfulness,” he said, “is ultimately all I have to go on, to gauge this case.” He noted Iwano’s testimony. Compelling, the judge said. It would seem Kitami had lied. He then noted Kitami’s use of a translator: During the course of Mr. Kitami’s testimony, on more than one occasion, he interrupted the translator to correct him. Each time Mr. Kitami corrected him in perfect English.

  55. Fear of failure, I thought, will never be our downfall as a company. Not that any of us thought we wouldn’t fail; in fact we had every expectation that we would. But when we did fail, we had faith that we’d do it fast, learn from it, and be better for it.

  56. Stay in his good graces and all will be well.

  57. You are remembered for the rules you break.

  58. Not me. I sat up all night, playing out a hundred different scenarios, castigating myself for taking such a risk.

  59. When I finally crawled into bed, my mind wouldn’t stop. Lying in the dark I thought over and over: Am I going to jail? Me? Jail?

  60. we’d used a big chunk of their financing not to purchase shoes from overseas but to run a secret factory in Exeter. Best case, this would make them mad. Worst case, it would make them lose their minds.

  61. As in the Onitsuka trial, full disclosure, total transparency, was the only course. It made sense, strategically and morally.

  62. Pre was most famous for saying, “Somebody may beat me—but they’re going to have to bleed to do it.” Watching him run that final weekend of May 1975, I’d never felt more admiration for him, or identified with him more closely. Somebody may beat me, I told myself, some banker or creditor or competitor may stop me, but by God they’re going to have to bleed to do it.

  63. I picked Athena. The Greek goddess who brings nike. Athena

  64. floating ideas, and shooting down ideas, and hashing out threats to the company, the last thing we took into account was someone’s feelings.

  65. My management style wouldn’t have worked for people who wanted to be guided, every step, but this group found it liberating, empowering. I let them be, let them do, let them make their own mistakes, because that’s how I’d always liked people to treat me.

  66. Matthew announced he would never wear Nikes so long as he lived. His way of expressing anger about my absences, as well as other frustrations. Penny tried to make him understand that Daddy wasn’t absent by choice. Daddy was trying to build something. Daddy was trying to ensure that he and Travis would one day be able to attend college.

  67. Time and again I’d vow to change. Time and again I’d tell myself: I will spend more time with the boys.

  68. He’d tried to pitch Adidas and they’d been skeptical, too. Abracadabra. That was all I needed to hear.

  69. At all. A product, I thought, speaks for itself, or it doesn’t. In the end, it’s only quality that counts. I couldn’t imagine that any ad campaign would ever prove me wrong or change my mind.

  70. “You can’t live like this,” he said. “Well . . . I guess that’s why you’re here.” As the first order of business, I invited him to be on our board of directors. To my surprise, he agreed. Then I asked his opinion about going public. He said going public wasn’t an option. It was mandatory. I needed to solve this cash flow problem, he said, attack it, wrestle it to the ground, or else I could lose the company.

  71. I read it, and reread it. I couldn’t make heads or tails. As best I could determine, the federal government was saying that Nike owed customs duties dating back three years, by virtue of something called the “American Selling Price,”

  72. Essentially the American Selling Price law, or ASP, said that import duties on nylon shoes must be 20 percent of the manufacturing cost of the shoe—unless there’s a “similar shoe” manufactured by a competitor in the United States. In which case, the duty must be 20 percent of the competitor’s selling price. So all our competitors needed to do was make a few shoes in the United States, get them declared “similar,” then price them sky high—and boom. They could send our import duties sky high, too. And that’s just what they did. One dirty little trick, and they’d managed to spike our import duties by 40 percent—retroactively.

  73. vowed that from then on I’d meditate, count backward, run twelve miles a night, whatever it took to hold it together.

  74. That might have been the night the swoosh became real to my father. Respectable. He didn’t actually use the word “proud.” But I hung up the phone feeling as if he had.

  75. Aside from being on death row, life was grand.

  76. And potentially damaging. Thus, around Thanksgiving, 1978, I instituted a strict company dress code. The reaction wasn’t terribly enthusiastic. Corporate bullshit, many grumbled. I was mocked. Mostly I was ignored.

  77. Maybe the cure for any burnout, I thought, is to just work harder.

  78. I wrapped my arms around myself. Ever since the onset of burnout, this old habit was becoming more pronounced. I often looked in 1979 as if I were trying to keep myself from flying apart, trying to keep my contents from spilling out.

  79. “You could issue two classes of stock—class A and class B. The public would get class Bs, which would carry one vote per share. The founders and inner circle, and your convertible debenture holders, would get class As, which would entitle them to name three-quarters of the board of directors. In other words, you raise enormous sums of money, turbocharge your growth, but ensure that you keep control.”

  80. Of course we were served many Mao tais. After all my trips to Taiwan, I was prepared. My liver was seasoned.

  81. Within two hours we had ourselves a deal. Four years later, in Los Angeles, the Chinese track-and-field team would walk into an Olympic stadium for the first time in nearly two generations wearing American shoes and warm-ups.

  82. It seems wrong to call it “business.” It seems wrong to throw all those hectic days and sleepless nights, all those magnificent triumphs and desperate struggles, under that bland, generic banner: business. What we were doing felt like so much more. Each new day brought fifty new problems, fifty tough decisions that needed to be made, right now, and we were always acutely aware that one rash move, one wrong decision could be the end. The margin for error was forever getting narrower, while the stakes were forever creeping higher—and none of us wavered in the belief that “stakes” didn’t mean “money.” For some, I realize, business is the all-out pursuit of profits, period, full stop, but for us business was no more about making money than being human is about making blood.

  83. We wanted, as all great businesses do, to create, to contribute, and we dared to say so aloud.

  84. More than simply alive, you’re helping others to live more fully, and if that’s business, all right, call me a businessman. Maybe it will grow on me.

  85. I personally would own about 46 percent. It needed to be that much, we all agreed, because the company needed to be run by one person, to speak with one firm and steady voice—come what may. There could be no chance of alliances or breakaway factions, no existential struggles for control. To the outsider the division of shares might have seemed disproportionate, unbalanced, unfair. To the Butt-faces it was a necessity. There wasn’t a word of dissent or complaint. Ever.

  86. A company called Apple was also going public that same week, and selling for twenty-two dollars a share, and we were worth as much as them, I said to Hayes. If a bunch of Wall Street guys didn’t see it that way, I was ready to walk away from the deal.

  87. THE BUCKET LIST turns out to be anything but a comedy. It’s a movie about mortality. Two men, Nicholson and Freeman, both terminally ill with cancer, decide to spend their remaining days doing all the fun things, the crazy things, they’ve always wanted to do, to make the most of their time before they kick the bucket. An hour into the movie, there’s not a chuckle to be had.

  88. “Hey, look, Buffett and Gates—who’s that other guy?”

  89. At the moment I’m worth $ 10 billion, and each of these men is worth five or six times more. Lead me from the unreal to the real.

  90. After forty years I’ve stepped down as Nike CEO, leaving the company in good hands, I think, and good shape, I trust. Sales last year, 2006, were $ 16 billion. (Adidas was $ 10 billion, but who’s counting?)

  91. 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, pleading with the executives for the right to sell Tigers .

  92. I think of the countless Nike offices around the world. At each one, no matter the country, the phone number ends in 6453, which spells out Nike on the keypad. But, by pure chance, from right to left it also spells out Pre’s best time in the mile, to the tenth of a second: 3: 54.6.

  93. I say by pure chance, but is it really? Am I allowed to think that some coincidences are more than coincidental? Can I be forgiven for thinking, or hoping, that the universe, or some guiding daemon, has been nudging me, whispering to me? Or else just playing with me? Can it really be nothing but a fluke of geography that the oldest shoes ever discovered are a pair of nine-thousand-year-old sandals . . . salvaged from a cave in Oregon? Is there nothing to the fact that the sandals were discovered in 1938, the year I was born?

  94. When Jordan’s father is murdered, I fly to North Carolina for the funeral and discover with a shock that a seat is reserved for me in the front row.

  95. After the thousands of miles I’ve logged as a runner, I know that feeling of fighting for that next breath.

  96. He feels euphoric. That must have happened to Matthew, I tell myself, because at the last second he pulled out his mouthpiece. I choose to believe this euphoria scenario, to believe that my son didn’t suffer at the end. That my son was happy. I choose, because it’s the only way I can go on.

  97. Every Nike athlete wrote, emailed, phoned. Every single one. But the first was Tiger. His call came in at 7: 30 a.m. I will never, ever forget. And I will not stand for a bad word spoken about Tiger in my presence.

  98. In his final six months I was able to take my father on a long trip, to put to rest the eternal question of whether he was proud, to show him that I was proud of him. We went around the world, saw Nikes in every country we visited, and with every appearance of a swoosh his eyes shone. The pain of his impatience, his hostility to my Crazy Idea—it had faded. It was long gone. But not the memory.

  99. I walked out of the room, barely hearing the beeping machines, the laughing nurses, the patient groaning down the hall. I thought of that phrase, “It’s just business.” It’s never just business. It never will be. If it ever does become just business, that will mean that business is very bad.

  100. “You measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you.”

  101. A transference, a camaraderie, a sort of connection. It’s brief, but it nearly always happens, and I know it’s part of what I was searching for when I went around the world in 1962. To study the self is to forget the self. Mi casa, su casa. Oneness—in some way, shape, or form, it’s what every person I’ve ever met has been seeking.

  102. It might have been okay if he’d just quit. But he went to work for Adidas. An intolerable betrayal. I never forgave him. (Though I did recently—happily, proudly—hire his daughter, Avery. Twenty-two years old, she works in Special Events, and she’s said to be thriving. It’s a blessing and a joy to see her name in the company directory.)

  103. Of course my handling of the crisis only made it worse. Angry, hurt, I often reacted with self-righteousness, petulance, anger. On some level I knew my reaction was toxic, counterproductive, but I couldn’t stop myself. It’s just not easy to remain even-keeled when you wake up one day, thinking you’re creating jobs and helping poor countries modernize and enabling athletes to achieve greatness, only to find yourself being burned in effigy

  104. a water-based bonding agent that gives off no fumes, thereby eliminating 97 percent of the carcinogens in the air. Then we gave this invention to our competitors, handed it over to anyone who wanted it. They all did. Nearly all of them now use it. One of many, many examples.

  105. “When goods don’t pass international borders, soldiers will.” Though I’ve been known to call business war without bullets, it’s actually a wonderful bulwark against war. Trade is the path of coexistence, cooperation. Peace feeds on prosperity.

  106. All we have to do, I tell the students, is work and study, study and work, hard as we can. Put another way: We must all be professors of the jungle.

  107. For years he flew his own private airplane, giving the middle finger to everyone who said he’d be helpless.

  108. 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.

  109. 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.

  110. I’m the guy who said Magic Johnson was “a player without a position, who’ll never make it in the NBA.” I’m the guy who tabbed Ryan Leaf as a better NFL quarterback than Peyton Manning.

  111. Of course, above all, I regret not spending more time with my sons. Maybe, if I had, I could’ve solved the encrypted code of Matthew Knight.

  112. And yet I know that this regret clashes with my secret regret—that I can’t do it all over again.

  113. God, how I wish I could relive the whole thing. Short of that, I’d like to share the experience, the ups and downs, so that some young man or woman, somewhere, going through the same trials and ordeals, might be inspired or comforted. Or warned. Some young entrepreneur, maybe, some athlete or painter or novelist, might press on.

  114. It would be nice to help them avoid the typical discouragements. I’d tell them to hit pause, think long and hard about how they want to spend their time, and with whom they want to spend it for the next forty years. 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,

  115. 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.

  116. I’d like to warn the best of them, the iconoclasts, the innovators, the rebels, that they will always have a bull’s-eye on their backs. The better they get, the bigger the bull’s-eye. It’s not one man’s opinion; it’s a law of nature.

  117. And those who urge entrepreneurs to never give up? Charlatans. Sometimes you have to give up. Sometimes knowing when to give up, when to try something else, is genius. Giving up doesn’t mean stopping. Don’t ever stop. Luck plays a big role. Yes, I’d like to publicly acknowledge the power of luck. Athletes get lucky, poets get lucky, businesses get lucky. Hard work is critical, a good team is essential, brains and determination are invaluable, but luck may decide the outcome. Some people might not call it luck. They might call it Tao, or Logos, or Jñāna, or Dharma. Or Spirit. Or God. Put it this way. The harder you work, the better your Tao. And since no one has ever adequately defined Tao, I now try to go regularly to mass. I would tell them: Have faith in yourself, but also have faith in faith. Not faith as others define it. Faith as you define