Phil Knight: Shoe Dog – Book Summary

Best business book I’ve read recently: “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight. It is marketed as a memoir, but if you’re interested in entrepreneurship, check it out.

Shoe Dog book cover


In the early 1960’s, Phil Knight founded the company Blue Ribbon Sports that would eventually become Nike. The book provides a great narrative of the company’s early days when Blue Ribbon Sports acted as a distributor for Japan’s Onitsuka Tiger Company. Phil and others drove all over Oregon and the West Coast to promote the sneakers to other runners.

Key Takeaways about Phil Knight and Shoe Dog

  • Phil was 24 when he founded Blue Ribbon Sports.
  • He continued to work full-time as an Accountant during the first few years of the company, paying others but relying on his salary to help pay bills and fund the business.
  • Within 15 years, Nike had $270 million in sales.
  • Phil Knight wasn’t afraid to play with his cash flows, sometimes dangerously so. It was interesting to read about some of the run-ins he had with his bankers. He was a lot more willing to take risks with his cash flows than I am at Museum Hack, and more than one time it caused him major problems.
  • Nike’s name was the creation of Jeff Johnson, the company’s first employee. I saw a bit of myself in Jeff, who could be a bit crazy and paid an obsessive amount of attention to detail. He also had a tendency to skip drinking and partying with the team in favor of reading a book in his hotel room, which made sense to me as someone who isn’t very good at staying up late.
  • Teamwork is key. The early Nike employees would often have offsite retreats and Phil puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of a good culture.
  • Phil Knight: “It’s hard to define. A lot of people say, ‘Well, you created the culture.’ It wasn’t me who created it. Basically, it bubbles up from the people. And you can’t dictate a culture…it comes from within.”

Why I enjoyed this book

I think “Shoe Dog” does a great job of describing the challenges and triumphs involved in starting a company that would go on to be one of the most respected global brands in the world.

Knight’s style is humble, yet informative, and the inclusion of personal anecdotes (like the story of meeting and eventually marrying his wife as his student in Accounting class) provides an entertaining backdrop to the story of his success.

Reading this book made me feel like an insider, as if I was getting to see “behind the scenes” of the creation of something very special.

Highly recommended!

P.S. Today Nike has annual revenue approaching $30 billion and Phil Knight is worth over $25 billion!


Phil Knight creator of Nike


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