Latest reading – Shoe Dog: A memoir by Nike Creator Phil Knight

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Besides getting a lot of exercise this summer, I also found some time to read more. Using the Great Lakes Digital Library and access through the wonderful West Iron County District Library in my hometown of Iron River, Michigan, I can download digital books and audible books. I still like a paper copy, but living abroad, digital gives me access to books I would have to order and ship.

I didn’t realize how long of a struggle it was for  Phil Knight to build Nike into the global behemoth that it is today. He started in 1962 and for many years was on the verge of bankruptcy and fighting legal and financial battles with suppliers, US customs, banks, etc. I took it for granted that people always ran long distances for physical and mental health. However, in the 1960s and most of the 1970s, running was a something very few people did.

Phil ran track at the University of Oregon and many of the early employees of Nike either coached or ran track and field there. The “hippie” or “alternative lifestyle” of Oregon and dedication to track and field carried his company through hard times. For a long time they were a private company and on the verge of bankruptcy many times due to cash flow problems. They went public in 1980 and Knight and the founding employees became super wealthy. The term “shoe dog”, refers to a person who is obsessed with shoes and spend many hours designing and constructing better shoes. Thanks to the University of Oregon and Nike, running shoes today are much better than a generation ago. The recent attempt to run a sub 2: 00-hour marathon shows Nike continues to try to improve human performance and athletic shoes.

Knight has strong ties to Japan. He started the Blue Ribbon Sports company by importing Onitsuka “Tiger” shoes. Today Onitsuka is still based in Kobe and is known as ASICS. ASICS is an acronym for the Latin phrase, “healthy soul in a healthy body”. Onitsuka in the 1960s made some of the best shoes around and combined with the expertise and passion Knight and his friends from University of Oregon athletics program, they pushed ADIDAS and Converse, the two giants in the shoe industry of the 1970s. Knight eventually manufactured his own shoes and clothing, etc. and with powerful marketing, they are almost more of a lifestyle and sports/celebrity agency than just a shoe company.

It was sad to hear his regrets regarding his son and his regret of not spending enough time with his wife and children while building Nike. His eldest son tragically drowned in a diving accident in El Salvador in his 20s while working for an NGO.

I highly recommend the book. It gave me a new appreciation for the athletic shoe market, finding a balance between work and family and it was interesting to hear how long and hard Knight and his early partners worked on building Nike.

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