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When Nike notched a key save

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

In 1972, Phil Knight’s entire career boiled down to his performance at a Chicago trade fair. The founder of Nike knew that he had to convince attendees to buy his new sneakers.

“If sales reps liked our new shoe, we’d live to see another year,” he recalls. “If not, we wouldn’t be back for the 1973 show.”

Knight arrived early at the convention center to help his colleagues get ready. They were stacking boxes of shoes in a pyramid to make them eye-catching. But Knight and his team were worried. They knew that the shoes did not match the quality of the earlier samples that they had approved from the manufacturer. They noticed that the leather was too shiny and the texture felt cheap. Even the Nike logo—the swoosh that later became famous—was crooked.

Knight’s mood darkened. He remembers fretting that he was “saddled with debt, head of a teetering shoe company, rolling out a new brand with shoddy workmanship.”

Determined not to give up, Knight turned the dire situation to his advantage. He rallied his colleagues by telling them, “Look, this is the worst the shoes will ever be. They’ll get better. So if we can just sell these, we’ll be on our way.”

Soon enough, sales reps started to arrive and inspect the shoes. They held them up and peppered Knight with questions. He told them that Nike was the Greek goddess of victory. And when they asked about the weird-looking swoosh logo, he replied, “It’s the sound of someone going past you.”

His confident answers wowed them, and they bought his shoes. By show’s end, his team had exceeded their highest sales projections.

— Adapted from Shoe Dog, Phil Knight, Scribner.

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