The Swoosh Story
Leadership thoughts and lessons by Louise Thomson
With children who are easily targeted by media advertising, we have a wardrobe of NIKE. Tops, pants, socks and of course, shoes.
My daughter Jennifer is so obsessed with NIKE, that she thought the book was for her when I showed it to her! Impressed, yes. Yet, at 10, I’m not sure if it will be of interest to her – especially when there are no photos of NIKE products.
On the contrary, I became quickly immersed in a beautifully crafted story of a man with a big vision, crazy idea and a passion for running. It’s a long story too. There is no overnight success and it doesn’t have a totally happy ending. Out of adversity, there is still an empowering and indeed an organisational story which had me reading at any opportunity to understand what drove Phil Knight to keep going.
It began in the early 1960s where on paper, Phil graduated from the University of Oregon College, Stanford Business School and a stint in the Army yet, in the flesh, he still felt like a kid at the age of 24. He knew he wanted to be successful, purposeful, meaningful, creative, important and above all, different. He didn’t want to lose. But he didn’t know at what.
Doing what he loved best, running, his crazy idea came to him. Play. Do what makes you happy and feels like play. And like running, just keep going. Don’t stop. Just don’t stop.
This advice anchored Phil for the following fifty years. It's tough to imagine his strength to keep focused as this was a story of business hell - continually chasing cash to fulfill the orders of good running shoes, convincing people to believe in his dream and spreadsheets.
My Swoosh Story learning and take-outs:
Travel – don’t delay it, plan far and wide and don’t be concerned to travel solo
Passion – follow what you love, don’t keep doing what you’re not passionate about
Risks – take risks to make things happen, big risks to be different
Success – don’t expect it to happen overnight - it’s long, slow and painful
Family – they will always be there, but don’t put them last in the queue, regret is heavy
Friends – work with people and treat them like friends (Nike = ‘buttfaces’)
Relationships – earn your respect which will be followed by trust – a foundation recipe for business
Communication – keep honing your skills as your role in business is to influence
Play – do what you love, follow your passion and involve others to share the play
Dream – get lost in your thinking and find the thoughts which make you happy
Mentor – always have people in your life to talk about your dreams and your business
Culture – do what works for your team, don’t do what you think you should do
Phil’s father gave him $50 to purchase his first box of Japanese running shoes to sell from his car. However, his father never really understood his entrepreneurship which wasn’t respected as a ‘profession’ let alone valued in the 60s & 70s. This and sadly, the death of his son Matthew (Scuba diving accident) took the edge of happiness out of Phil’s life. With all the money in the world, these deaths curtailed the life of comfortable happiness which Phil was always seeking.
I have since found myself fascinated with Phil’s life. He must be one of the most private billionaires on earth, however from what I have uncovered, he has since stepped down from the Chairman’s role at NIKE (he’s 79), stepped up his philanthropy, donating $400 million to Stanford where he did his MBA. He also has a daughter Christina – which isn’t mentioned in the book and one guess is she was adopted as a teenager which would have been outside the timeline of the Shoe Dog story.
I have put Shoe Dog on my list of favorite Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs. This was more than an account of success, but a life story showing the reality of achieving success.