Being Knighted

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Five things I have in common with the founder of Nike.

When I heard that the elusive and private Phil Knight was releasing a memoir, I knew I wanted to get my hands on it. I preordered it with Audible and immediately began listening. Within 10 minutes I was hooked on Shoe Dog.

Here is the Amazon summary:

In this candid and riveting memoir, for the first time ever, Nike founder and board chairman Phil Knight shares the inside story of the company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands.

Young, searching, fresh out of business school, Phil Knight borrowed fifty dollars from his father and launched a company with one simple mission: import high-quality, low-cost running shoes from Japan. Selling the shoes from the trunk of his Plymouth Valiant, Knight grossed eight thousand dollars that first year, 1963. Today, Nike’s annual sales top $30 billion. In this age of start-ups, Knight’s Nike is the gold standard, and its swoosh is more than a logo. A symbol of grace and greatness, it’s one of the few icons instantly recognized in every corner of the world.

But Knight, the man behind the swoosh, has always been a mystery. Now, in a memoir that’s surprising, humble, unfiltered, funny, and beautifully crafted, he tells his story at last. It all begins with a classic crossroads moment. Twenty-four years old, backpacking through Asia and Europe and Africa, wrestling with life’s Great Questions, Knight decides the unconventional path is the only one for him. Rather than work for a big corporation, he will create something all his own, something new, dynamic, different. Knight details the many terrifying risks he encountered along the way, the crushing setbacks, the ruthless competitors, the countless doubters and haters and hostile bankers—as well as his many thrilling triumphs and narrow escapes. Above all, he recalls the foundational relationships that formed the heart and soul of Nike, with his former track coach, the irascible and charismatic Bill Bowerman, and with his first employees, a ragtag group of misfits and savants who quickly became a band of swoosh-crazed brothers.

Together, harnessing the electrifying power of a bold vision and a shared belief in the redemptive, transformative power of sports, they created a brand, and a culture, that changed everything.

I mean, YASSS please.

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Here are five ways I am similar to Phil Knight:

  1. We Both Moved Home at the Age of 24 – Ok, I was 23, but I turned 24 while living at home. Like Knight, I found myself unsure of what to do with my life at a pivotal time. After graduating from UC Davis, I found myself working a passionless job and decided that a step back was a step in the right direction. Knight, after graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism and then continuing on to Stanford’s MBA program, decided to do the same. For each of us, moving back home was the best decision. In his year, Nike was born. In mine, FromBrownEyes.
  2. We Travel to Find the Meaning of Life – Like Knight’s, my gap year has been focused mainly on travel. Although Knight packed a backpacked and traveled Asia for some time, the 7 states and the 10 countries I have visited allows for some close comparisons. I am searching for the same definition of happiness that Knight looked for in 1962. Through my travels, I am finding that happiness is flexible and even simple.
  3. We Are Ducks – As I mentioned earlier, Knight attended University of Oregon and then went on to get his MBA. In a week, I will be starting my MBA program. The entire concept of Nike came to Knight while writing a paper during his MBA studies. He drew upon his experiences running track at U of O to conceptualize a superior running shoe that could be produced cheaply in Japan. Like Knight, I hope to find inspiration for my future start-up while completing my MBA.
  4. We Have A Lot of Confidence Between Us– I asked my best friend to describe me in one word. She chose confident, which is spot-on what I would have selected too. Knight believes “confidence is better than cash when starting a business.” Confidence in your self, in your product, and in your team. It is this confidence that allowed Knight to become extremely hands off with his employees. He believes that that you should give someone a problem and let them solve it their own in way, instead of telling them how to solve it. I admire Knight for cultivating a space that welcomes creativity and ingenuity. I hope to take this into my future business.
  5. We Value Our Time – Knight opens the book with a quote that really resonated with me, “I had an aching sense that our time is short. Shorter than we’ll ever know. Shorter than a morning run.” Through my experiences with Parkinson’s Disease, I have come to believe the same thing. Like Knight, I try to take advantage of every day and every opportunity that comes my way.

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Knight and I do have some key differences. I appreciate his condor in Shoe Dog. Knight talks openly about how the start of his company Blue Ribbon Sports (which later rebranded into Nike) began with a lie. During his first meeting in Japan, Knight was asked which American shoe company he represented, and thinking back to his days of running track, he conjured up Blue Ribbon Sports. As someone who values honesty and openness, I am not sure that I would have had the…tenacity…to go as far as invent a company when faced with opposition. Because it worked in his favor, I really admire Knight and the story of his company’s creation. Had his plot failed, I am sure my thoughts on his lying would be more critical.

Knight is also very open when talking about the distance Nike created between himself and his family. With long work days and frequent business trips, Knight describes Nike as his third, and most needy, son. The wedge Nike drove between Knight and his family was only heightened by the unexpected death of his first son Matthew. Although I speak from no experience, I hope to be better able to balance a family and a company in the future.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book. It is engaging and inspiring and offers great insights into the persistency required to start a business. I must say, it really has me excited to be living in Oregon, the birth place of Nike, and attending school at the hallowed grounds of U of O.

They say the best way to understand someone is to walk a mile in their shoes. Aside from slipping on some Nikes and taking a jog at Hayward Field, this book might be the closest thing to understanding Phil Knight.

-TM

What did you think of Shoe Dog? Let us know below.

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