While looking for ideas about people or projects to talk to you about, I picked up a book on my shelves bought many years ago. I started reading it and simply had to share this with you.
How am I supposed to start describing Yvon Chouinard ? Should I start with the fact that he is the founder of world-renowned sports equipment and apparel company Patagonia? Or with the fact that he is a rock climber, surfer, kayaker and fisherman ? Or should I tell you how much he cares about the environment and acts on this conviction? Because he is all of that, and so much more. Yvon Chouinard is definitely an original. In Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, you get a fascinating look inside the history and philosophy of both Patagonia and its founder.
From its beginning, the book shares a sense of Chouinard’s strong-willed personality and his love of the outdoors. Son of a French Canadian, Yvon Chouinard moved from Maine to South California at the age of 8 and fell in love with climbing, diving, fishing, and surfing. At the age of 18 he taught himself blacksmithing so he could make his own hard-steel pitons to climb the big walls of Yosemite with his friends. Between time spent surfing and climbing, he sold them to support himself and then founded Chouinard Equipment. He took over an abandoned plant and began to renovate its old offices as a retail store where they also sold sport clothing. The apparel was such a success they decided it needed its own name to distinguish it from Chouinard Equipment’s hardware line and came up with Patagonia.
By any means, Yvon Chouinard is not your average businessman. He starts his book by saying: “I’ve been a businessman for almost 50 years. It’s as difficult for me to say those words as it is for someone to admit to being an alcoholic or a lawyer. I’ve never respected the profession.” So what does he do differently? As the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard is one of the most successful and ethical outdoor industry businessmen alive today.
Patagonia is known for its environmental focus. Their mission statement is to “Make the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” This means they try their best to protect the environment while creating their products. Also, in 1996, they pledged to give 1 percent of their total sales to environmental causes whether they turned a profit or not. This builds up to $58 million donated to activist groups committed to environmental causes. In 2001, Patagonia helped start 1% for the Planet, an alliance of 148 companies committed to giving at least 1 percent of their sales to saving the planet.
The second important thing for Yvon Chouinard is to make Patagonia an outstanding place to work. He actually labeled his own theory of management M.B.A. —management by absence—since he spends most of his time practicing the outdoors sports he loves so much. “We all had to come to work on the balls of our feet and go up the stairs two steps at a time. We needed to be surrounded by friends who could dress whatever way they wanted, even be barefoot. We all needed flextime to surf the waves when they were good or ski the powder after a big snowstorm or stay home and take care of a sick child. We needed to blur the distinction between work and play and family.”
Seems like a dream job for anyone into outdoor sports. If you want to know more about Patagonia’s working environment check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NByn516-2fk
For me Yvon Chouinard definitely is an inspiration about combining passion, business and ethics. He is the kind of business person I may want to become someday. What about you ? Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments below.