Nike mogul Knight charts the rise of his business empire, a world leader in athletic wear.
The title of the memoir is apt, for much of it is a rather dogged struggle through the minutiae of shoe distributorship and manufacture, with all the deals and lawsuits that entails. Knight began that journey more than half a century ago, when, as a young entrepreneur-in-training, it occurred to him that there might be room in the American marketplace for Japanese running shoes. He wrote a paper to that effect. “Being a business buff,” he recounts, “I knew that Japanese cameras had made deep cuts into the camera market, which had once been dominated by Germans. Thus, I argued in my paper that Japanese running shoes might do the same thing.” There was much hope in that thesis, for this was back in the day before Steve Prefontaine came along to help Knight press his case to runners everywhere. From that start, Knight built what has been reckoned to be a $30 billion-per-year business. He is proud to tell that story, as one might expect, but there’s some score-settling to do: the bad guys include a Japanese shoe manufacturer who couldn’t make a straight deal, a competitor called the Marlboro Man (who, admittedly, was “poaching our poaching”), tennis ace Jimmy Connors (whose agent, backing away from an endorsement agreement, insisted, “I don’t remember any deal. We’ve already got a deal three times better than your deal, which I don’t remember”), and a few other such impediments. The story, though with many merits, is rather listless. Unfortunately, much of the book conforms to the dry formulas of business writing, borrowing in turn from business speechifying: tell a joke, show a slide, read the text and expand on the bullet points, move to the next slide.
By the numbers, to be sure, but students of business, for whom Nike is a well-established case study, may want to have this view straight from the source.