I’ve been on a non-fiction kick lately with a focus on biographies of great companies and great people. I just finished Swoosh: Unauthorized Story of Nike and the Men Who Played There and although its not as well written as Walter Issacson’s Einstein or Jobs or even as good as In the Plex or The Everything Store, the birth and growth of Nike is still a very interesting story.
I’ve always admired Nike’s marketing and think they make many of the best athletic shoes around (along with a lot of crappy ones). Like a George R.R. Martin book, Swoosh introduces too many minor characters and it would have benefited tremendously by more contact with Phil Knight.
Some thoughts on the book:
Billion dollar companies don’t always start out like billion dollar companies. Phil Knight started Nike, then Blue Ribbon Sports, as a distributor of Japanese Tiger, now Asics, shoes and he sold them out of his trunk. It took years for Nike to even be interesting enough for Phil Knight to quit his job as an accountant and focus on Nike full time.
Hiring the best people with a passion for the brand is everything. I don’t know if it’s because the author didn’t interview Knight but it seems as though Knight did very little and simply gave minimal instructions to his lieutenants and they went out and did what they thought was best. It sounds like Knight wasn’t even in the picture during many of the pivotal moments of the company. It was passionate employees who made things happen.
Starting a company and running a large mature company are very different things. Nike stumbled as it grew because it became complacent and hired a bunch of middle managers that wanted the Nike lifestyle but not all the hard work that got the company to where it was. Nike also didn’t have any of the processes in place to get new innovative products through the bureaucracy and to market.
Reading a physical book is not nearly as nice as reading on a Kindle Paperwhite. Swoosh is one of the few books that still hasn’t made it into the Kindle library so I was forced to read a paperback for the first time in years. I definitely missed not being able to highlight passages, read in the dark, or instantly get a definition. The paperback is about four times the size of the kindle too.
I’ll try to post more book thoughts in the future.