I’m currently devouring the book, Shoe Dog, which is the story of how Phil Knight started Nike. I had no idea the backstory of this company, and I love to hear these success stories that started out as anything but. Through each of the companies I’ve been a part of, we’ve had big ups and big downs, and hearing the stories of Phil Knight, and Jobs, and Musk, help me remember that this job of being a CEO is tough!
Anyway, I LOVE this book. I’m listening to it on Audible while driving, and the guy reading it is fantastic as well. I highly recommend it (audible link.) I’m almost certain to give it five stars on the list of books I’ve read this year.
Knight first started what we know today as Nike as a modest shoe distributor called, Blue Ribbon Sports. Blue Ribbon originally worked with a Japanese company, selling their Tiger brand shoes in the United States (Onitsuka, the Japanese company that created Tiger, eventually merged with two other shoe companies to create ASICS.) Eventually, as that relationship started to sour, Knight and his team created the Nike brand to begin selling their own shoes, essentially (and reluctantly) putting their destiny in their own hands.
At their very first trade show, where they were essentially launching the Nike brand to the world, they received the shipment of shoes from their factory and they weren’t in good shape. At this trade show, all the buyers would be there and they’d walk from booth to booth, looking at the latest shoes from every shoe company, and deciding on the spot how many to order for their retail customers.
This first batch of Nike shoes were a mess. On some the Nike swoosh/logo was off-center. On some the leather was too shiny, on others not shiny enough. And so Knight and his team thought that they had blown it. The buyers would come, see this new brand, look at the poor quality and order exactly zero.
Only, the opposite happened. Buyers began making huge orders, shocking the Blue Ribbon team. Eventually one of the team members went up and, much to the chagrin of Knight, asked a buyer, “Why in the heck are you guys buying these shoes?! You know they look like crap, right?”
The buyer looked at him and said, “Because we trust you guys. We’ve been buying your Tiger shoes for years, you’ve always been upfront and honest about everything, so if you say this Nike shoe is going to sell, we’re willing to believe you.”
Honesty. Such a simple concept, yet it’s missing from the ethos of so many companies. I like to look back at the success I’ve had with my previous companies and joke, when asked why so many great companies worked with us, that “gosh darn it, people like us.”
But it’s true! People want to work with people they like. And any solid relationship starts with honesty.