• 2019-11-26

How Does Nike 'Do It?'

Bill was once kicked out of Medford High for brawling. 

Described by some as an irascible hot-headed S-O-B, Bill was scared straight by a school superintendent who warned him he would wind up dead on a saloon floor and embarrass his mother if he didn’t turn his life around.

That's all Bill needed to hear.

It was the spark he needed to light a new fire and before long Bill was burning through books and revved up over sports. Armed with an insatiable hunger to win, his ornery streak made him a perfect fit for any football squad or track team.

Later, he turned to coaching and his studious curiosity ignited a crusading search for better equipment for his athletes. 

More than anything, Bill taught his athletes the real meaning of teamwork; protect each other, keep your promises and get things done – no matter what’s in the way.

Those values continue to be lived to this day within a company that Bill and one of his middle-distance runners started in the mid 60’s when they each kicked in $500 and started selling their products out of the trunk of a VW van. Without much of a plan, just sheer guts and determination, Bill and Phil were sweating it out on the streets of a runaway American dream that has since transcended sports all over the world.

If your intent is to build an enduring, irresistible brand, it helps to know why your own heritage is an intrinsic part of the process and how it impacts everything from marketing to operations, culture and more. In other words, the stories you tell about your past will ultimately shape your future and determine your destiny. 
It also helps to study other legendary brands that have actually done it from the ground up. Stop by at trackside and feel the strength of character and sandpaper grit that explains How Does NIKE “Do It?” on this edition of Leaders & Legends.   

        The idea that the harder you work, the better you’re going to be is just garbage. The greatest improvement is made by the man or woman who works most intelligently.   BILL BOWERMAN


While visiting Eugene, OR recently, I had a chance to spend some time with retired management consultant Don Murray who facilitated some of the earliest strategic planning sessions with NIKE through their initial multi-billion dollar growth phase. Over coffee and biscuits, Don recounted how Phil Knight experienced an epiphany of sorts at a 1991 workshop when the co-founder recognized the need to shift focus from being a production-oriented company to becoming a sports marketing company. 

As Knight explained it, “For years we placed all of our emphasis on designing and manufacturing the product. Now, we understand the most important thing we do is market that product”.  

Before Knight released his #1 best-seller Shoe Dog in 2016, Don Murray wrote a book entitled The NIKE Legacy: Champions of Competitive Advantage. Completed in 2010, only 2,000 copies exist and all of them are in the possession of NIKE insiders as it captures the time-honored secrets of the way they do business. In our conversation, Don confirmed that Shoe Dog was an accurate description of how things unfolded at the company that has become the very definition of sports themselves.  

p.p.s… Phil Knight was once quoted as saying that a businessman can be an artist just as much as a writer, painter or a sculptor. In this in-depth interview the NIKE co-founder explores some of the nuances that created the art. 

p.p.p.s…. According to a case study conducted by the Center for Applied Research, the phrase “Just Do It” was hatched at a boardroom discussion with Wieden & Kennedy advertising agency in 1988. At the meeting, Dan Weiden  was infected by the spirit of the company and reportedly complimented the team for its can-do attitude, saying "You NIKE guys, you just do it.“ Later, Wieden would acknowledge some of the inspiration came from the final words of convicted murderer Gary Gilmore who uttered “Let’s Do It” before he was executed in Utah. 

Between 1988 and 1993, the "Just Do It" campaign allowed Nike to further increase its share of the domestic sport-shoe business from 18% to 43%. But let the record show that the “Swoosh” came first, created in 1971 by graphic design student Carolyn Davidson while she was studying at Portland State University. That’s where she met Phil Knight who was teaching some accounting classes and Davidson wound up doing some freelance work for his company, which at the time was called Blue Ribbon Sports. Davidson presented a half-dozen designs to Knight and his team who ultimately selected the Swoosh, but not before Knight opined "I don't love it, but I think it will grow on me." Davidson submitted a bill for $35 dollars for her work. But in September 1983, Knight gave Davidson a golden Swoosh ring with an embedded diamond, and an envelope stuffed with NIKE stock to express his gratitude.



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**Big shout out to Josh Parlee at CreoVisuals for creating the video above (and all videos we produce).  If you need a video genius (we're not kidding), contact Josh here.  

**Photo by Frank Luca & Braden Collum on Unsplash