After finishing business school at Stanford, Phil Knight took a year-long, round-the-world trip–a rare thing today, and even more so in the early 1960’s. One of his stops was in Japan, where he made arrangements to become an importer of Tiger running shoes (this was a large part of the motivation for the trip).
Early on, his company (not yet called Nike) opted for a direct-to-customer strategy when rejected by sporting goods stores. This meant that they developed connections with coaches of track teams, which in turn led to a few endorsement deals.
Knight also describes an interesting “hack” that he used to travel between his office in Portland and the company’s first retail store in Los Angeles. He was still a reservist in the U.S. Army, so each weekend he would put on his uniform and take a troop transport. This kind of scrappy thinking is exemplified in several key anecdotes throughout the book.
One of the main differences between the 1960’s and today, according to Knight, was the relative scarcity of capital at the time. There were only two commercial banks in Portland back then, and Knight’s relationship with each of them became fraught at times.
Interestingly, although he was a passionate runner, Knight wasn’t wedded to the idea of creating a shoe business. He thought Nike might fail, and if it did he wanted it to fail fast so that he could learn from it and move on.
The book is organized in a very readable fashion, with one chapter per year from Knight’s first trip up to 1980, when Nike had a successful IPO. The most memorable part of the book, though, is the conclusion in which Knight gives an inside look at his philosophy for business:
For some… business is the all-out pursuit of profits, period, full stop, but for us business was no more about making money than being human is about making blood. Yes, the human body needs blood…. But that day-to-day business of the human body isn’t our mission as human beings. It’s a basic process that enables our higher aims, and life always strives to transcend the basic process of living.