Phil Knight was the founder and long-time president and CEO of Nike. This is his account of creating Nike in 1962, until it went public in 1980, making him, and a lot of others, quite wealthy.
Actually, Knight did not create Nike in 1962. He created Blue Ribbon Sports and began importing Tiger shoes from Japan. Tiger later became Asics. In the early 1970s, he began making his own shoes and they called them Nikes.
He’s a good writer. He has a sense of humor. He is fairly honest about his own weaknesses and challenges. It is certainly a fascinating tale, as Nike became one of the most famous brands on the planet. It is an incredible success story.
The first 10 years they were barely surviving and always in debt. But even after they had grown larger, there was one challenge after another. There was never smooth and easy sailing until after they went public.
What did Knight do so well? Why did his company succeed? Well, he’s smart. He’s a Stanford MBA. But more importantly, he had endurance. He ran the mile at the University of Oregon. He was willing to do what it took to make the company a success. Also, he hired good people – key early men like Bob Woodell, who had been an athlete on the University of Oregon track team and was later paralyzed from the waist down from an accident. Men like Jeff Johnson, a Stanford graduate and ex-runner who was eccentric but quite bright. Men like Rob Strasser, an overweight insurance attorney who was very bright and became a key figure in the company. There were many others. Knight also includes luck as a key factor in making Nike go. I would say it was God’s common grace and goodness.
Nike began as a running company. Knight was a runner at the University of Oregon, and Eugene, Oregon is “running central” for the United States. The central figures in Eugene included Bill Bowerman, the legendary track coach, and Steve Prefontaine, the legendary runner (almost mythic figure in Oregon even today) who became America’s greatest distance runner and died in a car accident in his twenties. Both Bowerman and Prefontaine were vitally involved with Nike’s founding. Bowerman had been Knight’s coach and became an early co-owner. Prefontaine ran in Nike shoes and helped give the brand visibility. And he inspired everyone at Nike with his tough charisma and confidence.
Because I ran for Nike beginning in 1977, continuing through 1984, I had met a number of these principal figures and of course that made the book a lot more interesting. Also, since I knew Eugene so well, and the atmosphere of running in Oregon, the book was that much more fascinating.
I especially appreciated his remarks on Geoff Hollister, who was one of the first Nike employees, an ex-runner at the University of Oregon, who first brought me into the company and who was a delightful human being.
However, for anyone interested in American business, and especially a company as unusual as Nike, this is a good read.