I knew very little of Phil Knight before picking up Shoe Dog, a memoir on building the company that became Nike. What a journey! Knight’s entrepreneur’s quest contains all the idiosyncrasy and luck we’ve come to expect in these American success tales.
Knight grew Nike out of a company, Blue Ribbon Sports, that he seeded with debt. Debt and the credit float kept the company placing orders that could meet their growing demand. Much of Knight’s difficulty in those early years came from the lack of capital available to high-growth companies, as venture capital was in its early days. Knight’s company came to resemble a Japanese trading company, heavily leveraged & nearly cash-less. Just as a decade long move to production diversification materialized into Nike, a new challenger appeared: The US Government, seeking millions in back import taxes.
Knight would fend off the feds (and specifically a bureaucrat kraken he likens to a pet octopus), moving on to offer Nike’s IPO at $22/share (the same as Apple).
In addition to the business drama, Knight’s memoir also expands my understanding of the Oregon man and the accompanying ethos. Not dissimilar from the ethics of the Pennsylvania Deutsch, I think.