Philip Knight’s new memoir, Shoe Dog, is a good read (or listen – the Audible version is quite good).
There’s a lot to learn from the founder and former CEO of Nike, Philip Knight – including how having a major wind at your back helps (the post-war reconstruction of Japan combined with the suddenly new trend of jogging in America made Nike possible).
There’s also a lot NOT to learn – he had some crazy ways of managing or ignoring his team and a very male-oriented locker-room mentality among the senior leaders (in the early days the management team referred to each other as “Buttfaces” and drank a lot and generally roughed each other up).
One of the clearest reasons for Nike’s success, however, seems to be their absolute obsession with creating great shoes for their customers. Nike was driven by product development and innovation. Long before we had the vocabulary and a whole industry of consultants and design thinkers, Nike had the legendary track coach at the University of Oregon, Bill Bowerman.
Bowerman was Philip Knight’s coach when he was a student at the University of Oregon and it was there Knight tells us that he first learned about Bowerman’s obsession with creating better shoes. Bowerman was a mad inventor – the Edison of shoes. In his book, Knight describes what Bowerman was already doing long before Nike was born.
“He’d spend days tearing [shoes] apart, stitching them back up, then hand them back with some minor modification, which made us either run like deer or bleed…he never stopped. “
Knight goes on to say that Bowerman was the first person who really made him think about what people put on their feet.
Knight sent Bowerman two pairs of the first shoes he imported from Japan in 1964 (as you’ll learn from the book – Nike started by finding low-cost running shoes in Japan and importing them into the United States). Bowerman started playing with those shoes – and liked them and then became Philip Knight’s partner in Nike (the original company had a different name as you’ll discover).
From that point on, Bowerman was intimately involved in not only reviewing but actually designing shoes in consultation with the factory in Japan. Together, Bowerman, Knight, and their partner factories in Japan (later in Taiwan, Mexico, China, etc.) spent decades innovating what today has become the whole industry of sneakers. They made great shoes for athletes and for everyone else. In fact, when they started they had no idea that non-runners (or non-athletes) would actually wear their shoes for everyday purposes. What they did know though is that runners needed much better shoes. And they delivered.
If you think you are obsessed with the customer, if you think product development is important, then you should read Shoe Dog.
And I have an incentive for you.
For the first 10 people who read (or listen to) Shoe Dog and send me a one paragraph review: I’ll send you back another book as my gift. You’ll get The Everything Store by Brad Stone about another customer-obsessed leader, Jeff Bezos.
P.S. I have one more book for you. The first 10 U.S.-based readers to email me will get a free copy of my book Customers Included (including free shipping). Email me at book at collaborative gain dot com.