A Great American Story: Phil Knight, The Founder of Nike

Who owns Nike? Many people know the swoosh. Few, know the journey.

You have probably come across the trademark swoosh somewhere. Whether it’s from watching Lebron James aerial attack towards the rim while landing on his signature shoes, watching Serena Williams win another Grand Slam singles title in her fashionable swoosh gear, maybe watching Cristiano Ronaldo scorch through the defense to score a majestic goal in his signature swoosh cleats, or if you don’t watch sports, see it out in the streets; billboards, retail stores, in people’s apparel, among others. The signature Nike swoosh is more than just a logo; it’s a symbol of success and is practically recognized in every corner of the world. However, to my surprise, few individuals know the humble beginnings of this brand and the fascinating American story behind the founder of Nike; Phil Knight. Honestly, I didn’t know the story before reading Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike By Phil Knight.


Shoe Dog is a story about the tenacity, persistence, faith, and formidable wisdom of a man who started in a situation most of us are familiar with: very little money, no clear sense of direction, and a dream to one day provide immeasurable value to this world.

Shoe Dog is the autobiography of Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. This book is one of my all-time favorites. You will probably hear me say that about numerous books. But that’s just because, as you may know by now, I get excited about a lot of books. However, this book contains what I like to describe as a spirit of hope and pursuit of happiness that may be impactful to many people. I must say, Shoe Dog will probably keep you engaged from start to finish. Even though I knew the outcome, that he will become a billionaire and possibly build one of the greatest brands ever created, there were countless moments throughout the book where I was sitting on the edge of my seat reading and thinking “He is not going to make it! How is he getting over this?!” and as you would expect, Phil would go on to not only overcome the situation but thrive!


From my perspective, this memoir combines heartbreak, tragedy, success, and hope in such an elegant way. To put it simply, Shoe Dog is beautifully written. The book begins by describing the moment the famous Nike slogan “Just Do It!” was born. The description is vivid, relatable, and allows us to understand why Phil Knight believes this to be “the best advice- may be the only advice- any of us should ever receive”. We’ve heard all types of interesting stories regarding how ideas of companies rise from practically nothing. But, Nike’s story is particularly interesting.


During Phil’s college days at Stanford, he had written a research paper for an entrepreneurship seminar about shoes (receiving an A as you would expect) and this quickly evolved from an assignment to a life-long mission. After graduating from college and grad school, Phil Knight went on to embark on a journey that led him to travel and visit Japan, China, and a handful of others countries. But, his first stop was Hawaii. Phil landed in Hawaii and quickly realized he wanted to stay in what he thought was paradise at the time. He went on to have his first job selling encyclopedias to fund his expenses.

While traveling around the world, Knight realized his impact in the world would be ensuring the world had comfortable shoes and athletic apparel that represented winning. How did Nike start? with very little cash, no registered company, and no real success as a salesman, Phil Knight nevertheless boarded a train from Tokyo to Kobe and arranged a meeting with top executives from a Japanese company, Onitsuka, known for their shoes. His goal; rebrand and sell the shoes in America.


When Phil Knight was asked by the top executives whether he represented a company, he said yes. At the time, Phil Knight did not have a company registered. A few years later, he made the top executives of Onitsuka, the Japanese company, believe he had an East coast office, when in fact he did not, and he also pledged to buy several shoes he could not afford. Although initial lies, he went on to make them a reality: he registered a company (Blue Ribbon, later rebranded Nike), he set up an East Coast office (In Wellesley, Massachusetts) and he did find money to make all the promised orders. As Nike would say, he just did it.


Phil Knight’s relentless pursuit of success is inspiring and you should read more about it.


As you probably know, Nike, Inc. is an American multinational corporation that is engaged in the design, development, manufacturing, and worldwide marketing and sales of footwear, apparel, equipment, accessories, and services. The company is headquartered near Beaverton, Oregon, in the Portland metropolitan area.


There are countless people, past and present, I would love to sit down with at a café and have an everlasting conversation about their journey and their perspective on life. After reading Shoe Dog, Phil Knight quickly climbed up my list of those individuals. I’m aware I am an ordinary individual, with ordinary thoughts, and there are no buildings or monuments dedicated to my name, I haven’t revolutionized any industry or created a product used by millions of people like Phil. But, if there’s one thing I learned from Phil Knight’s book is that no dream is ever too big to accomplish. Thus, my goal of one day sitting down with Phil Knight at a café, talk about our similarities and differences, receive some of his hard-earned wisdom, and pay for his coffee lives on.

Thanks to Phil Knight’s story, Junior year of college, I decided to leave everything behind and go study abroad in Puerto Rico for a few months. I was an excellent student in Stony Brook University (Majoring in a branch of Computer Science), had two jobs at the time (including running the Campus Recreation Center as a coordinator), was one semester away from graduation, intern for Delta Airlines, and had amazing friendships and relationships maturing in New York. With everything in my life stable, why would I embark into the unknown? Simply put, it was THE turning poing of my life. I was able to thrive in an environment where I was uncomfortable; I did not know anyone on the island, I had no clue where to go, no sense of direction, no one guiding me through this new place, and no clue what I really wanted to do with my life. However, like Phil Knight’s time in Hawaii, Puerto Rico developed into paradise and a home for me. My time in Puerto Rico refueled a fire in me to not only continue this platform but to pursue winning. I became comfortable being uncomfortable and learned to thrive in any environment. Once again, thank you Phil.


I highly recommend, once you read this book, to apply the learned principles every chance you get.


Kind regards,

Ariel


Photo by Paul Volkmer on Unsplash


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