Books / Reviews | ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES

'Shoe Dog' review: A 'crazy idea,' a multibillion dollar company

by Claire Williamson

Staff Writer

Everyone recognizes the Nike Swoosh, but in his memoir, “Shoe Dog,” Nike co-founder Phil Knight details the turbulent process of developing a multibillion dollar company.

Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight.
400 pages
SCRIBNER, Memoir

Fresh out of business school at 24, Knight had what he dubs a “crazy idea”: to import Japanese running shoes into the U.S. In the early 1960s, Knight set off on a world trip that included a stop in Kobe, where he found Tiger-brand running shoes manufactured by Onitsuka Co. (now part of Asics) and brokered a distribution deal. When the first shoes finally arrived a year later, Knight immediately shipped a pair to his former track and field coach at the University of Oregon, the famed Bill Bowerman. Impressed with the shoes, Bowerman offered to partner with Knight and the two founded Blue Ribbon Sports (Nike’s forerunner) in 1964.

Knight writes with candor and humor about the challenges he faced running his fledgling shoe company, from hiring and managing an eclectic group of staff, struggling with cash flow and rapid growth, and agonizing over whether to take the company public.

Japan features heavily and Knight’s accounts of the challenges of conducting business in postwar Japan — products arriving late, unclear contracts, ambiguous communication, legal battles and corporate espionage — are fascinating. By the early 1970s, Nike and Onitsuka’s business relationship came to a bitter end, though Knight’s admiration for Japan continues.

For runners and nonrunners alike, “Shoe Dog” is an invaluable glimpse into one of the world’s most recognizable companies and its groundbreaking founder.

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