Quick Book Review: ‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight

I am a huge non-fiction fan and a big memoir fan too. Being also a fan of capitalism, I was interested to read Phil Knight’s book on three levels. Okay four actually if you count that I enjoy reading about sticky brands. I wasn’t disappointed. A few things really stood out so—in lieu of a traditional review—I thought I would comment on some of the surprises.

#1 Struggles
I had no idea how tough the sledding was in the early years and how Phil Knight struggled to be able to borrow money. He also had banks refuse to do additional business with him. Guessing the leaders at those banks feel a special blend of myopia/regret/foolishness right about now.

#2 An Introvert
Maybe some folks who have followed Nike’s success over the years already knew this but it was kind of a surprise to me. You think somebody at the helm of a brand with this kind of unmistakable attitude and emotional connection would also be someone with a huge brand personality of their own. Not the case. Which is nice in a way. Proves you don’t have to be a brash egomaniac to succeed in business.

#3 Hiring and Managing

This bugged me a little bit. PK talks about how early on, his inner circle was largely accountants and lawyers who, by virtue of passing a licensing/credentialing exam, had “proven something.” It seemed surprising he wasn’t more willing to take some shots with folks who didn’t come from these two fields. Also on managing, he seemed kind of proud that he was typically very tight in doling out praise. I don’t know that I agree that is universally an awesome policy.

#4 Advertising
Regarding the aforementioned brand attitude and emotion, PK is surprisingly dismissive of advertising. By dismissive, I think the word “advertising”—at least in the way most would associate it with Nike’s boom years—appears in the book a handful of times. I don’t believe an agency is mentioned by name at all although he does describe the endorsements Nike sought and how those played into the company’s growth. If anything, he takes a jab at advertising, citing that he thought the products should speak for themselves. Definitely didn’t expect a treatise on Nike advertising practices but felt the subject was noticeably absent.

#5 Entrepreneurship
Towards the end, PK offers a short commentary on the state of entrepreneurship in our country and, regardless of your political persuasion, it is hard to argue with his logic. Our culture once celebrated entrepreneurs who started from scratch and then had success through will, determination, perseverance and all those virtues schools once taught. Now there are some who seem to deride entrepreneurs. He comments about the trends he sees in this area and one can’t help but feel angry and a little ashamed about the message being sent to American entrepreneurs.

Author’s note: On a couple of occasions, we have done some work with a division of Nike through another marketing firm. I did not meet Phil Knight and I am going to go out on a limb and say I am pretty sure he does not read this blog.