Shoe Dog’s cover features quotes from Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Bill Gates praises the book as an “honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like”. Considering this, you would anticipate Shoe Dog tells the story of a hungry businessman clawing his way to the top of his industry. However, Shoe Dog is not this.
No, this is the story of Phil; a man who swindles money from his dad, a man who took advantage of vulnerable people for his own financial gain, a man who put hundreds of employees’ lives at risk on a monthly basis and dismisses it as part of running a business.
Phil Knight’s book is honest, there’s no doubting that.
In many ways, Shoe Dog reads more like a confessional than a victory speech.
From detailing how many thousands of dollars he took from his dad, to how he kept the business constantly at risk of bankruptcy whilst simultaneously paying athletes tens of thousands to wear his shoes; Phil confesses to immoral action after immoral action. There’s no moment when Phil acknowledges his immorality, though.
Every shitty moment is rationalised as part of growing a business. Phil only ever acknowledges the negative effect his actions could have on his own personal life, never how he could potentially ruin his dedicated employees’ lives.
It’s fair to say that Nike wouldn’t exist if Phil didn’t employ one particular person, called Johnson.
Whilst Phil Knight was avoiding committing to his company (working as an accountant or lecturer), Johnson was selling their shoes full time and even opened their first shop. Even the name “Nike” came to Johnson in a dream, and the rest is history.
Johnson is the businessman I expected Phil Knight to be. Despite this, Phil spends the majority of Shoe Dog explaining how he abuses his influence over Johnson, and mocking Johnson’s enthusiasm towards expanding the company.
If anything, Phil’s real skill was his ability to convince talented people to join his company. Without people like Johnson, Nike would have never gained traction.
If there’s one lesson to be learnt from Shoe Dog, it’s that you need to be a sociopath to grow a company as quickly as Phil grew Nike.
There’s one particular moment later in the book when Phil is traveling around Asia considering new shoe factories. Realistically, he’s looking at sweatshops, but Phil’s complete naivety to this is extraordinary. At one point he compares the factory workers living in the sweatshop to his employee Johnson, and seems to believe that they are passionate about making the shoes (not that they’re living in the factory due to poverty).
To put it simply, Shoe Dog is completely tone-deaf.
It’s interesting to learn how one of the biggest brands in the world became so colossal, but it also provides a disturbing peak behind the curtain.
If you didn’t see my update on the release of “The Influencer Bubble”, my second book has been delayed until the middle of October. Whilst I could rush the release for Monday, I’ve decided to spend more time ensuring it’s to a quality I can be proud of.