If you want to be inspired in business look no further than Phil Knight.
The ghostwriter who wrote Shoe Dog, the book about Nike and Phil Knight certainly has a way with words. It captures both the entrepreneurial spirit of Nike and its founder as well as the atmosphere of Oregon where I grew up.
“September 7, 1962. Carter and I piled into his battered old Chevy and drove at warp speed down I-5, through the Willamette Valley, out the wooded bottom of Oregon, which felt like plunging through the roots of a tree.” — Phil Knight
Growing Up In Oregon
I can still remember getting my first pair of Nike shoes. I was in junior high school. They were navy blue with a white swish. I think they cost $25 which was an exorbitant amount in those days. They were so expensive that my best friend’s mother turned around in the store and refused to buy her daughter a pair. My mother bought me everything I wanted mainly because I rarely wanted anything at all. I ran track both years in junior high and on into my freshman year of high school, so to me they were worth every penny. These were followed by a light blue pair of spikes. In high school, I ran the 100-yard dash, the relay, and hurdles.
In his book, Phil Knight says that everyone in Oregon is born an environmentalist and I believe that to be true. It was just the way we did things. When I moved to California I could not believe what people threw in the trash, especially at work, where they threw paper documents in with the regular garbage. I was very much relieved when the laws changed governing recycling and everyone fell in line with what we had been doing in Oregon ever since I was a kid. I am still this way and this was the primary reason why I founded my company Ocean SF, a sustainable sailing apparel brand.
The Journey of Ocean SF & Nike
There are many things about Knight’s journey that remind me of my own with Ocean SF. This is a relief because I often feel I should be much further ahead than I am, but my timeline isn’t much different than Phil’s. I’ve had my ups and downs. Primarily the death of my husband and a global pandemic, but I’ve doubled my sales year over year since incorporating in 2017. I am very grateful to be able to say that 2020 which should have been a setback year, was instead a good one with solid growth and sales continue to climb.
Like Phil, I work other jobs to fund Ocean SF and like him, I am learning through them. He worked at Price Waterhouse where he learned how businesses actually ran by the numbers. Who succeeds and who fails and why. Lack of equity is the leading cause of failure in case you were wondering. He learned these things working as an accountant and I am teaching leadership at UC Berkeley. What could be better training than that? I learn more every day through my own research, my deepening understanding of leadership models and modalities, and the experiences of my students. I know exactly the kind of leader I want to be and know my knowledge will only deepen as my business expands and grows.
“You cannot travel the path until you have become the path yourself, said the Buddha, and I stood in awe before a path that twisted from the glassy lakes to cloud-ringed Mount Fuji, a perfect snow-clad triangle that looked to me exactly like Mount Hood back home.” — Phil Knight
The path of an entrepreneur will without a doubt have many twists and turns along the way. When I started Ocean SF I knew this, and it has proven to be especially true for me. What I didn’t expect, however, was how much this path would change me and call on my courage in many ways I didn’t know were possible.
Why Phil Knight’s Story Is A Classic Entrepreneurial Story
Phil says to be fearless and be a competitor. In a recent article, he is quoted as saying two memorable things. One is that “business is like war without bullets.” And, two to be a real competitor you have to have more focus and work harder than anyone else just like the great athletes of our time. Phil’s story is classic to the journey of most entrepreneurs, the difference is he stuck with it and didn’t let anyone change his course, not his father, not his bankers, not anyone. That’s what separates sprinters from long-distance runners.
Yesterday, I bought a new pair of Nike running shoes after having worn Adidas for the past several years. I’ll be thinking of Phil as I run San Francisco working on my company Ocean SF.
Follow your dreams and never give up, or in the famous words of Phil Knight, Just Do It. What better advice can anyone ever give you?