What Were Shoes Before Tennis Shoes?

 “I’d 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, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.” 
~Phil Knight, Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike

I just got done reading Shoe Dog, the memoir by Phil Knight, one of the founders of Nike shoes and longtime majority owner.

It was interesting to hear his perspective on the time and his process for building the company. It is less than conventional and yet it isn’t that different from other largely successful founders’ stories.

Until I read this book, I had never thought about the tennis shoes on my feet. About going to the store and trying to replace my walking/workout shoes with new ones and it took hours as I try on so many shoes, just to get the right fit. In my lifetime, there has always been Nike and always been a variety of running, walking, and tennis shoe options. It was interesting to learn how that whole thing came about and why.

It is a good story about talent, getting the right people together, passion, perfection, and a whole lot of luck. The central characters are not perfect, I will warn you that there are really only two women mentioned in the book. His wife and the women that creates the swoosh logo. In some ways I found it to be a good period piece about the times in the 1960’s and 1970’s for a white man with some means to start a company. Banks give him money; people line up to work for him. Which is all great. And as a woman in business, I know how much change I have witnessed over the past forty years being around women in business and at that time, it would have been almost impossible for a person of color or a woman to start a company the way he did. I celebrate what he was able to accomplish.

I enjoy my workout shoes, both pairs are Nike, and I am grateful that they revolutionized and transformed the sport shoe. Phil Knight is a disruptor. He disrupted a whole industry and didn’t see it that way. He just wanted a better running shoe and being competitive, decided he also wanted to be the best in that industry.

I enjoyed the haphazardness of the company’s first ten years. I meet so many women starting businesses and they want everything to be perfect, they want to understand it all before they even start. I understand this want and I also know that most often you start and see if you have a market and then you build a business. Phil’s approach reminds me of the start-up business model. First, prove your theory and that really is what they do with blue ribbon. He builds the company around doors opening and opportunities becoming available.  I will use it as an example of that process being around for years and being important to business. Many times, you just make it up as you go and then build it when you get back to the office or team.  I would also point out that this process of building a company isn’t always pretty, kind, or without injury to self and other, which you can see in his story. His relationship with his kids suffers, some of his friendships get strained, employees not only leave, but go to work for the competition.

The book ends in 1980 with a little follow-up at the end summarizing things from then until 2007. I wanted to know a little more about the thirty-plus years from when the book stops, and I have done a couple of internet searches and I must say he seems to be one of the secretive people on the internet.  His wife’s birthday is never published, and I am not able to validate if he has a daughter or not.  She is mentioned on Wikipedia, but that is it.  You can’t find her anywhere else on the web, so I am not even sure if there is truth to that, it is never mentioned in the book. He mentions in the book that he was a man of few words and from what I can see, the lack of information on the web supports that.  He doesn’t give interviews, he doesn’t do social media, he just works on the charitable arm of his life and leads a simple life with his wife Penny. 

Maybe life isn’t as complicated as we make it?

So, next time you are hunting down a pair of new tennis shoes, remember that not that long ago, there were only a couple of options and none of them had cool soles, nice colors or a swoosh on them. And then a man came along and messed with the whole thing.


Thank you.

JoyGenea Schumer
Business Owner, International Neurodiversity Coach, and Speaker


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