Who wouldn’t be intrigued by a book called Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, written by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard? It was my brother who first turned me on to Patagonia. He is an avid outdoor enthusiast and a fan of Patagonia gear and the company itself. He thought I might be interested in the environmental aspects of the company. I checked out Patagonia’s website and ran across Let My People Go Surfing.
In Let My People Go Surfing, Chouinard shares his personal history and that of the two companies he founded, Chouinard Equipment and Patagonia.
- His life-long love of the outdoors began as a kid coming of age in Southern California.
- Chouinard Equipment, specializing in rock climbing equipment, was founded with one product, a piton.
- A rugby shirt brought back from Scotland introduced clothing into the business and led to the founding of Patagonia.
- Over the years during his travels, Chouinard saw first-hand the destruction of the natural environment and built environmental stewardship and action into Patagonia. He founded “1% For The Planet”, an alliance of businesses that contribute at least 1% of their net annual sales to environmental organizations.
This book is a story of simple beginnings, serendipity, hard work, success, creativity, failure, perseverance, innovation, luck, and how one’s passion can lead from a small business to a global corporation.
- Readers will find Patagonia’s mission statement, corporate values, and business philosophies which combine standard business fare with some refreshing ideas.
- Chouinard discusses his “MBA” theory of management (Management by Absence). Sounds humorous but if you really think about it, a manager’s job is to hire the right people, remove obstacles, and let them do their job.
- Corporate headquarters is housed in an environmentally-friendly building in Ventura on the California coast. Employees can literally go surfing when the surf is up. Employees don’t shirk their responsibilities they just have the freedom to rearrange them.
The Bottom Line
In a way, Chouinard became a businessman to subsidize his global travel and outdoor endeavors. Along the way he and others built Patagonia into a global organization that demonstrates a company can be people and planet friendly and profitable.
Let My People Go Surfing shows there is a viable alternative to chasing quarterly earnings, treating employees as an expendable commodity, and business as usual practices that damage our planet. This book should be on the required reading list for all MBA candidates and business executives.
I was captivated by this book and look forward to a future with more companies like Patagonia. It gave me hope that the business world may wake up and find a different way to operate and still make money.
The Responsible Company, by Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley, released in May 2012, is on my “to read” list.
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