When my girlfriend asked me which sneaker I wanted as a gift, she was asking if I wanted either Adidas or Nike. I was certain I wanted Nike. It is only because Steve Jobs once talked up Nike’s branding. Hey, if Steve Jobs said Nike, then I say Nike. I didn’t think far beyond that.
As a twenty-something-year-old-looking-for-inspiration, it is always fun to read about successful people. I had read Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson 2 years ago. And I was fascinated by brilliant piece of writing. I loved how Walter Isaacson wrote in unbiased approach crafting this beautiful story of a tech genius. I felt the same when I read Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance although I needed or wanted to hear more from the protagonists themselves. That’s why I was particularly excited when my brother sent me a copy of Phil Knight’s Memoir named “Shoe Dog”. It’s written by the founder of Nike himself.
I couldn’t wait to begin.
Just a few pages into the book, I was hooked.
I was happy to learn that Phil Knight was still living with his parents at 24 even after he obtained a MBA degree. I was happy to learn that Phil Knight was still asking for money from his father for travelling. He ain’t no Steve Jobs. He ain’t no Elon Musk. He did not start a business at 16 in his parents’ garage and became a billionaire by 25. He was not sure about anything. He did not know what he wanted. He did not know much except that he loved running. He loved sports and athletes. Before everyone was awake in the morning, Phil Knight was up and running. And he was thinking what to do with his life. Well, aren’t we all?
Eventually, Phil Knight got money from his father to travel across the globe. His itinerary was made up of nearly 20 cities around the world and it included Rangoon so my heart beat a little faster while I was reading that paragraph. First, he stopped by at Japan to order shoes from a factory, climbed Mount Fuji, and fell in love with a girl. Then he took off on his world tour. Sadly, he didn’t make it to Rangoon. It was in 1962 when he was travelling in Vietnam and Nepal probably trying to get a visa to Burma. So, it was about the time when our country first went under Military coup. Phil Knight might have been disappointed not being able to get in and visit the country but I wonder how many people from inside too were trying to get out. Life’s like that, isn’t it.
To more of my enjoyment, Phil Knight still had no idea what to do with his life even after the trip. When the orders came, he started selling shoes from the back of his car but he still had a full time accountant job. In fact, he had a full time job 5 years into his shoe business. One part I really loved reading was when he was negotiating a partnership deal with his former track coach. Because he sent a few samples to his coach who knew inside out about the shoes, the coach loved the idea and asked for a way in. They agreed to meet up at a lawyer’s house who was a very good friend of the coach. As an introvert and a former student of the coach, Phil Knight was so intimidated before the start of the meeting that he said “no” to the hot chocolate offered by the lawyer’s wife. Negotiation went well, even better than he expected because the lawyer and the coach asked him to take bigger share and full control of the company. And that’s when Phil Knight went over to the lawyer’s wife and asked for a hot chocolate…with some mash mallows. Some nerves finally!
Since he started, sales doubled every year for at least 20 years. Yet life followed. Heartbreaks, fall outs, lawsuits, debts followed as well. One thing you can learn from the book is that it never stops. Nothing ever stops. All the good things never stop, all the bad things never stop. Phil Knight knows that and he wants us to know that too. Over 380 pages, Phil Knight told us his love story, his friendships, his regrets and his successes. Whether it was the girl who broke your heart, whether it was these Japanese who betrayed you, where it was Adidas who played a dirty trick and turned you against your own government, you have got to fight back. Was it all worth it? As Phil Knight would say: “Coward never started, weak died along the way, that leaves us…..ladies and gentlemen”.
The book took me about a week to finish. I loved every second reading it. I took it everywhere. I took it to the café. I took it to my Bagan trip. I looked up the temples and I thought of the world tour Phil Knight had in 1962. Man, Phil Knight would have loved our Bagan to the core.
Anyway, now if somebody asks me “Nike or Adidas”, I will not need Steve Jobs convincing me anymore.
Zwe Oak Soe