Attending the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting this past weekend reminded me of Buffett’s book recommendation of “Shoe Dog” by Nike’s Phil Knight a couple of years ago. “Phil is a very wise, intelligent, and competitive fellow who is also a gifted storyteller,” said Buffett. That is an understatement—the book was amazing! Part of what made it so good, I think, is that Knight was willing to reveal the deeper struggles facing any business that people sometimes want to hide for fear of looking less successful. Knight told deeply personal stories of finding financing in the nick of time, managing imperfect relationships with partners and employees, selling things he wasn’t sure he could deliver, making errors in setting up his overseas factories, and striving to be a good husband, son, and father. If the mighty Nike and Knight had these challenges and still managed to build such a hugely successful company … The memoir is a gift of inspiration to the rest of us that we can overcome our own challenges.
Business Is More Than Just Business
Most entrepreneurs and people in business know that the work is about more than just profit. Knight touches on that spirit throughout the book, and does a great job of capturing how a life’s work in business is so much more than numbers and profit. One quote from Knight: “It’s never just business. It never will be. If it ever does become just business, that will mean that business is very bad.”
Another quote: ” . . . for us business was no more about making money than being human is about making blood. Yes, the human body needs blood. It needs to manufacture red and white cells and platelets and redistribute them evenly, smoothly, to all the right places, on time, or else. But that day-to-day business of the human body isn’t our mission as human beings. It’s a basic process that enables our higher aims, and life always strives to transcend the basic processes of living—and at some point in the late 1970s, I did, too. I redefined winning, expanded it beyond my original definition of not losing, of merely staying alive. That was no longer enough to sustain me, or my company. We wanted, as all great businesses do, to create, to contribute, and we dared to say so aloud. When you make something, when you improve something, when you deliver something, when you add some new thing or service to lives of strangers, making them happier, or healthier, or safer, or better, and when you do it all crisply and efficiently, smartly, the way everything should be done but so seldom is—you’re participating more fully in the whole grand human drama. More than simply alive, you’re helping others to live more fully, and if that’s business, all right, call me a businessman.”
One last quote: “God, how I wish I could relive the whole thing. Short of that, I’d like to share the experience, the ups and downs, so that some young man or woman, somewhere, going through the same trials and ordeals, might be inspired or comforted. Or warned. Some young entrepreneur, maybe, some athlete or painter or novelist, might press on.”
- Business Cycles — the Hard Earned Wisdom of Business Cycles
- My Business Co-owners Are the Best Part of Investing
- Invest in Strength, Rather than Work on Weakness