The book chronicles the early days of Nike, from its inception as Blue Ribbon Sports to its eventual transformation into a global athletic brand.
The book is divided into three parts, and here is a summary of each chapter:
Part One: A Crazy Idea
Chapter 1: Stanford: 1962
Chapter 1 of “Shoe Dog” introduces us to Phil Knight, a recent graduate of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in 1962. Phil is unsure of what he wants to do with his life, and he decides to take a trip around the world before settling down.
On his travels, Phil has a chance encounter with a Japanese businessman who gives him an idea: import high-quality, low-cost running shoes from Japan to sell in the United States. Phil becomes obsessed with the idea and decides to pursue it upon his return to the US.
Phil contacts the Onitsuka Tiger company in Japan and convinces them to give him the exclusive rights to distribute their shoes in the United States. He starts selling the shoes out of his car at track meets and through mail-order catalogs.
Despite facing several challenges, such as the reluctance of American shoe stores to carry the Japanese shoes, Phil perseveres and manages to build a small but loyal customer base. The chapter ends with Phil realizing that he has stumbled upon a passion and a calling that he never knew he had.
Chapter 2 of “Shoe Dog” explores the growing popularity of running in the United States in the 1960s. Phil Knight becomes increasingly involved in the running community and begins to see the potential for his imported Japanese running shoes.
Phil attends track meets and meets several prominent runners, including Steve Prefontaine, who becomes an important figure in the Nike story. He also meets his future business partner, Bill Bowerman, who is a track and field coach at the University of Oregon and a respected authority on running shoes.
Phil and Bill share a passion for innovation and improving athletic performance, and they start experimenting with different materials and designs for running shoes. Phil continues to sell imported Japanese shoes out of the trunk of his car while working with Bill to create a better running shoe.
The chapter ends with Phil receiving a letter from Onitsuka Tiger terminating their distribution agreement, which puts his business in jeopardy. However, he decides to take matters into his own hands and create his own brand of running shoes, which sets the stage for the rest of the book.
Chapter 3: The Shoe Dogs
Chapter 3 of “Shoe Dog” introduces us to the early members of the Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS) team, or the “shoe dogs” as Phil Knight calls them.
Phil teams up with his former track coach at the University of Oregon, Bill Bowerman, to create their own brand of running shoes. They start working out of a small storefront in Santa Monica, California, and begin to design and manufacture their own shoes with the help of a few dedicated employees.
The chapter focuses on the personalities and backgrounds of the early BRS team members, including Geoff Hollister, Jeff Johnson, and Rob Strasser. Each of them brings a unique perspective and skillset to the company, and together they work tirelessly to create a better running shoe.
Phil realizes that building a successful shoe company will require more than just good products. He starts to focus on branding and marketing, creating a distinctive logo and building relationships with influential runners and coaches.
Despite facing numerous challenges, including financial struggles and production setbacks, the shoe dogs remain committed to their mission of creating the best possible running shoes. The chapter ends with the team preparing to launch their first line of shoes under the new Nike brand name.
Chapter 4: The First Shoe
Chapter 4 of “Shoe Dog” covers the creation of Nike’s first shoe, the Nike Cortez, which became an iconic symbol of the company and the running culture of the 1970s.
The chapter begins with the BRS team working hard to design and produce their own shoes, using the knowledge and experience gained from importing and selling Japanese shoes. They focus on creating a shoe that is lightweight, comfortable, and durable.
Bill Bowerman, the company’s co-founder and a renowned running coach, is particularly passionate about creating the perfect shoe. He experiments with different materials and designs, even using his wife’s waffle iron to create a unique sole pattern that provides better traction.
After many months of trial and error, the team finally produces their first shoe, the Nike Cortez. The shoe is a hit with runners, and the company starts to gain momentum.
Phil Knight realizes that in order to take the company to the next level, they need to focus on marketing and advertising. He hires an ad agency to create a campaign for Nike, which includes the famous tagline “There is no finish line.”
The chapter ends with the Nike Cortez becoming a best-seller and the company starting to establish itself as a major player in the running shoe market.
Chapter 5: The Green Abyss
Chapter 5 of “Shoe Dog” describes Nike’s growing pains as the company struggles to keep up with the demand for their shoes.
The chapter begins with Nike experiencing explosive growth in the early 1970s, thanks to the popularity of the Nike Cortez and other running shoes. However, the success comes with its own set of problems, such as supply chain issues and production challenges.
To solve these problems, Phil Knight decides to go directly to the source of their shoes: Japan. He travels to Japan to negotiate a better deal with Onitsuka Tiger, the company that used to distribute their shoes in the US. However, the negotiations turn sour, and Phil is forced to look for alternative suppliers.
Eventually, Nike decides to manufacture their own shoes, and they set up a factory in Kobe, Japan. The factory experiences many setbacks, including a devastating flood that destroys their entire inventory of shoes.
Meanwhile, Phil Knight faces personal challenges, including a divorce and the death of his son, Matthew. He continues to pour his heart and soul into the company, however, and Nike eventually overcomes its manufacturing challenges and emerges as a major player in the athletic shoe industry.
The chapter ends with Nike going public, which provides the company with the resources it needs to expand even further.
Chapter 6: China
Chapter 6 of “Shoe Dog” follows Phil Knight and the Nike team as they navigate the complex and rapidly changing business landscape in China.
The chapter begins with Phil Knight taking a trip to Japan to oversee production at their factory in Kobe. While there, he decides to make a side trip to China to explore the country’s potential as a manufacturing base for Nike.
Phil is struck by China’s energy and potential, but he also realizes that doing business in the country will be challenging. He encounters numerous obstacles, including language barriers and government bureaucracy.
Despite the challenges, Phil is determined to establish a foothold in China. He forms a partnership with a Chinese company, Dalian International, and begins to manufacture shoes in China.
The partnership faces many challenges, including disputes over intellectual property and differences in business practices. However, Phil remains committed to the relationship and works hard to bridge the cultural divide.
The chapter ends with Nike starting to gain a foothold in the Chinese market, which provides a new source of growth for the company. Phil reflects on the challenges and rewards of doing business in China and the importance of taking risks and being open to new opportunities.
Chapter 7: A Different Kind of Animal
Chapter 7 of “Shoe Dog” focuses on the marketing and advertising strategies that Nike uses to differentiate itself from its competitors and establish itself as a lifestyle brand.
The chapter begins with Nike facing stiff competition from established brands like Adidas and Puma. Phil Knight realizes that they need to stand out from the crowd and create a distinctive brand identity.
Nike starts to focus on marketing and advertising, creating provocative and memorable campaigns that tap into the cultural zeitgeist. They hire advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy to create a series of ads featuring the tagline “Just Do It.”
The campaign is a huge success, helping to establish Nike as a brand that represents athleticism, grit, and determination. The chapter also covers some of Nike’s other iconic campaigns, including the “Bo Knows” campaign featuring Bo Jackson and the “Air Jordan” campaign featuring Michael Jordan.
The chapter also covers Nike’s decision to move away from manufacturing shoes in Japan and China and instead focus on outsourcing to other countries, such as Indonesia and Vietnam. This decision allows Nike to reduce costs and increase efficiency.
The chapter ends with Nike becoming a major player in the athletic shoe and apparel industry, with a strong brand identity and a loyal following of customers.
Chapter 8: The Shark
Chapter 8 of “Shoe Dog” introduces the character of Rob Strasser, who becomes a key player in Nike’s success in the 1980s.
Rob Strasser is a charismatic and ambitious executive who has a background in advertising and marketing. He is also a big fan of Nike and becomes a consultant for the company before joining them full-time.
Rob becomes instrumental in Nike’s marketing and branding efforts, creating campaigns that tap into the aspirational lifestyle that Nike represents. He is also a shrewd negotiator and helps the company secure key endorsements from high-profile athletes, such as Andre Agassi and Bo Jackson.
Rob’s ambitious nature eventually leads to tensions within the company, as he clashes with other executives over strategy and direction. He also has a falling out with Phil Knight, which leads to his departure from the company.
Despite the tensions, Rob’s impact on Nike is undeniable. He helps to establish Nike as a lifestyle brand, and his marketing and branding strategies help to drive the company’s success in the 1980s. The chapter ends with Nike continuing to grow and evolve, with new challenges and opportunities on the horizon.
Chapter 9 of “Shoe Dog” covers a pivotal moment in Nike’s history, as the company faces a major setback that threatens its survival.
The chapter begins with Nike experiencing explosive growth in the late 1980s, with the company expanding into new markets and launching successful products like the Air Max line of shoes. However, this growth comes at a cost, as the company takes on significant debt to fund its expansion.
Nike faces a major crisis when it discovers that its supplier in Indonesia is using child labor to manufacture its shoes. The discovery leads to public backlash and calls for boycotts of Nike products.
Phil Knight and other executives at Nike realize that they need to take immediate action to address the issue. They launch an investigation and work to improve labor conditions in their factories.
The crisis leads to soul-searching at Nike, with Phil Knight reflecting on the company’s values and mission. He realizes that Nike needs to do more than just sell products – it needs to stand for something and make a positive impact in the world.
The chapter ends with Nike emerging from the crisis stronger than ever. The company takes steps to improve working conditions in its factories and becomes a leader in corporate social responsibility. Phil Knight also reflects on the importance of facing challenges head-on and staying true to one’s values.