What It Took to Build Nike;Phil Knight Lets Us In on The Moves He Made

by Pauline

“I would tell men and women in their mid-twenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, and the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.” Phil Knight

Up until I came across The Shoe Dog, Nike was just another shoe to me or rather a company with good advertising campaigns. After reading this inspiring book, Nike to me is now a person, a rich heritage. It’s resilient; it’s taking a chance on people.

The man behind this brilliance, Phil Knight, has a spirit that no one can put down. The co-founder of Nike tells his story of making a crazy dream come true in a captivating manner.  He vividly describes how his desire to leave a mark in the world led him to build a legacy with Nike.

I have gushed about this book to everyone I know especially my entrepreneur friends and I can truly tell you they are loving it.

I am writing this for anyone who feels like an underdog or someone who has a crazy idea and they haven’t started because it sounds crazy.

“The cowards never started and the weak died along the way-that leaves us.” Shoe Dog

Let’s learn from Phil Knight’s moves;

Hold on to Your Crazy Idea

“Let everyone else call your idea crazy…. Just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and  don’t give much thought to where ‘there’ is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.”

He had his crazy idea at 24 and decided it was going to work, no maybes about it.

Phil Knight used to run and was passionate about it and so became interested in running shoes. He had done his research and wanted to deal with Japanese running shoes.

So onto his crazy idea he decided to see the world as he made plans to make his pitch in Japan.

Encourage Yourself and Be Confident

“Self is the obstacle, the enemy.”

Phil Knight describes how he gave himself a pep talk the morning of his meeting-reminding himself that he was confident and capable.

His confidence was tested in the meeting when asked which company he represented.  He didn’t own a company nor was he representing any company.

He came up with the name of his company right at that moment-Blue Ribbon-later to become Nike. He went ahead to confidently present his idea and left with a closed deal.

Belief Is Irresistible

Whatever business you are in, whatever you are selling you have to have belief. Phil Knight had tried selling in other jobs and failed but selling shoes came easy for him because he believed in what he was doing.

“I believed these shoes were better to run in. people, sensing my belief, wanted some of that belief for themselves. Belief, I decided. Belief is irresistible.”


No Overnight Success Here

“You must forget your limits. You must forget your doubts, your pain, and your past. You must forget that internal voice screaming, begging, “Not one more step! And when it’s not possible to forget it, you must negotiate with it.”

I Created a Gratitude Journal and I am Using it to Get my Life Together

If you read this book oblivious of the fact that the company in question is Nike, you would be forgiven to believe this company never came to be.

Phil Knight and his team faced challenges that would have easily made them pack their bags and go home; but they didn’t.

He had problems with his suppliers delaying shipments in the beginning. He also had to keep going to Japan for new contracts and more convincing on why he should sell their shoes.

He had depended on loans from the beginning of his business. He even went back to being an accountant using his paycheck to finance his business.

The “microwave generation” was definitely not Phil Knight’s generation.

Phil Knight didn’t let fear paralyze him; his argument was that if his company failed he would have valuable wisdom that he could apply in his next business.

His thoughts on entrepreneurs giving up: He believes that sometimes knowing when to give up is genius.  “Giving up doesn’t mean stopping. Don’t ever stop.” He says.

There Will be Dark Days; Keep Going

“Life is growth. You grow or you die.”

His dark days started with his long term Japan-supplier working behind his back to cut him off. They were talking to new suppliers and their offer was to buy blue ribbon. To add salt to the injury, the bank he was doing business with decided they no longer wanted to work with him.

This pushed him to look for solutions and that’s how he had to look for a factory to make his shoes. This meant the shoes needed branding and that’s when they hired a lady who came up with the Nike swoosh logo. The name Nike also came in a dream-Johnson- his employee’s dream- in the same period.

Phil knight dealt with lawsuits, claims of owing import duties worth lots of money and being rejected by two banks. He had a few sleepless nights but never once did he stop.

Ambition Is Not the Worst Thing to Have

“There are worse things,” he said, “than ambition.”

One would say Phil was over ambitious but remember his was a crazy idea so no surprise here.  He would come up with plans that were out of his budget but have faith he would have his way with his lenders.

His ambition had him having creditors storming his office but if you read this book you will find out the hilarious ways he handled all of them. His ambition saw him rejected by two banks but then again the end justifies the means. In the end he found a lender who believed in his ambition

He continued to open more stores for Nike and I think his confidence came from having a team that he could rely on.

And on Love; Choose the Right Partner

“My Penelope, who waited and waited, she waited while I journeyed, and she waited while I got lost. She waited night after night while I made my maddeningly slow way home-usually late, the dinner cold.”

Where I am: Taking stock.

Meeting his wife on the job meant she understood what he was about. Phil describes his wife Penelope as a woman who stood by him through thick and thin.

On the nights he couldn’t sleep because a bank was threatening to sue the company she understood his distress. And on days when she had to work with a small budget because money was tight-she held on and made it work.

Build a Great Team

“It was us against the world, and we felt damned sorry for the world.”

He chose his former coach to be his business partner. A good investment move that saw him gain respect in the running business.

His first team who later called themselves “buttface” was loyal and passionate about the company just as he was.  In the world they were misfits and yet here they all belonged together -at Blue Ribbon. He identified with each of them and the struggles each had gone through and he knew they would all be winners.

They didn’t just bring problems to him; they came with solutions. The first employee –Jeff Johnson– will intrigue you with his passion. You would have to read the book to find out why you need a Johnson in your business.

Phil, realizing what each of the “buttface” had to offer, wholly trusted them and didn’t have to keep looking over his shoulder.

When he was facing court battles with his former supplier he had a team to rely on. When he had to use employees’ salaries to pay his lender, his team found a solution to pay the angry employees.

There are streets named after this team at Nike’s campus. That’s how much gratitude he felt for each of them.


What this book has taught me is that the process is what no one wants but it’s what builds us. There were so many reasons for Phil knight to call it quits. When he wasn’t dealing with lenders, he was dealing with factory issues and delayed orders.

It was all worth it in the end but if he gave up, he would never have known. When life gets tough we can take a break but never stop as Phil says. We work with what we have and with time we will see change. We will see growth. Everything is connected; our present moment is preparing us for great blessings ahead.

I have learnt resilience from this man. If you leave with nothing from this book/post I hope you learn resilience. I hope you understand that the dark days are not meant to defeat us but to build us.

“Have faith in yourself, but also have faith in faith. Not faith as others defines it. Faiths as you define it. Faith as faith defines itself in your heart.” Phil Knight


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