Thursday, December 29, 2016

"Shoe Dog", a memoir by Phil Knight

This book is a history of the founding of Nike, originally Blue Ribbon, in 1964 until its initial public offering in 1980.  It is also a life story of the founder Phil Knight.

This is a straightforward and easily readable look back .  Knight is trying to both tell his story and the company's story, and it starts off a bit awkwardly.  The beginning details an around the world trip taken by Knight after graduation from business school at Stanford when he did not know what he wanted to do with his life. He discusses the many interesting places that he saw and lists the books that he read along the way.  This must be why in the positive comments on the book's back cover by Andre Agassi he refers to it as "literary".

After that beginning, the book starts the real story.  On that post college trip Knight began his quest to build a sports shoe company by visiting a few manufacturers in Japan.  When he returns home months later he works on an arrangement to import shoes from Japan and distribute them.  That start begins with no office, a lawyer, Knight's college track coach, and a couple of his friends selling on commission.  It advanced to a point of having an office/storeroom in a big room with broken windows to having a small core of employees, Knight, another former college track friend, a track devotee who became a paraplegic in a car accident, and a CFO, an in-house counsel, and a head of marketing each of whom weighed over 320 pounds, working for a fitness company.

It's the story of the culture of the company and the somewhat eccentric group that created it.  It would be a perfect airline or train read, not too intense, while interesting and informative.

While reading, I wondered about a co-writer or someone who helped shape the style.  There is no doubt here that Knight was the source of the book.  There is a continuity that suggests help and there was some.  In the acknowledgements section at the very end, Knight mentions J.R. Moehringer "whose generosity and good humor and enviable storytelling gifts I relied on through the many, many drafts of this book."  Moehringer played the same role with Andre Agassi for his book "Open".  Moehringer's own writing includes a highly successful book about a local pub about a mile away from here called "The Tender Bar".  It should be noted that Knight appears to have audited writing classes with a professor at the University of Oregon which suggests diligent preparation.

This book worked here.  It's definitely being sent to a former cross country runner who has three young children and no time to read it, but he will sometime.  Completely coincidentally I gave him five shares of Nike stock for a Christmas present many years ago, maybe when he was around 10 years old.



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