Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman melds adventure, business, and environmental stories into a book for everyone.
Reading this book will give you hope for the future of the planet by demonstrating that a business can be profitable, treat its employees well, and care for the environment.
The book’s colorful author Yvon Chouinard is a self-professed dirtbag who began his business career blacksmithing climbing pitons in a tin shed in Southern California.
This tiny business led to Chouinard founding outdoor clothing and gear company Patagonia in 1973. Over 40 years later, the company is going strong with customers all over the world.
I read and wrote about the first edition of Let My People Go Surfing several years ago. When I discovered that the second edition covers ten more years of what Chouinard calls “business unusual,” I immediately knew I wanted to read it and I am glad I did.
Let My People Go Surfing opens with a combination of Chouinard’s autobiography and the history of the two companies he founded Chouinard Equipment and Patagonia. The second half of the book covers Patagonia’s business philosophies and provides a look into the future.
The history section will both entertain and inform you. Chouinard openly shares tales from his own life as well as business successes and failures.
As a young rock climber, Chouinard and his friends were constantly practicing, improving, and innovating techniques and gear. They took risks and learned from the outcomes. These are all attributes that Chouinard later carried over to his business enterprises.
“If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, ‘This Sucks. I’m going to do my own thing.’” —Yvon Chouinard
As you read part two, you will discover how Patagonia builds customer loyalty, which employee benefit the book drew its name from, and how concern for the environment is woven into the company’s decision-making and operations.
“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” —Patagonia Mission Statement
Here are two examples of Patagonia’s business unusual approach.
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Chouinard and his fly-fishing friend Craig Mathews started 1% for the Planet, an alliance of businesses who pledge to donate at least 1% of their sales (note the word sales, not profits) to organizations and projects actively working to protect and restore the natural environment.
Patagonia makes products to last and takes them back at the end of their useful life to be recycled into new products.
The company helps customers get the most out of their Patagonia merchandise by assisting customers with making repairs or doing it for them.
To encourage customers only to buy what they need, Patagonia placed a full-page ad in the New York Times with the headline “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” The ad came out on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.
The Bottom Line
Yvon Chouinard’s affinity for rock climbing probably heavily influenced his decision to go into business. First, he needed to make money so he could do more rock climbing. Second, he and his friends had ideas on how to improve and reinvent the equipment they used.
Through his outdoor adventures, Chouinard came face-to-face with the damage occurring in the natural environment. He decided that Patagonia needed to clean up its own environmental act and that the company could and should set an example and inspire other companies to do the same.
Let My People Go Surfing shows that there are ways to conduct business that is good for people, the planet, and the bottom line.
Company CEOs and managers concerned with engaging and retaining their employees and building a resilient organization might learn a thing or two from this book.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the second edition of Let My People Go Surfing and look forward to reading the third edition in another ten years.
Reader Note: my imperfect understanding of the term dirtbag is that it refers to a person who is so enthusiastic about an activity (like rock climbing) that they work only enough to support their activity.
Featured Image at Top: Surfer Dressed as a Businessman Catches a Wave – Photo Credit iStock/stephfournet
- 1% for The Planet – Keep Earth in Business
- Building Social Business – Book Review
- Conscious Capitalism – Book Review
- Cradle to Cradle – Book Review
- Getting Green Done – Book Review
- Greed to Green – Book Review
- Let My People Go Surfing – Book Review (1st edition)
- The Responsible Company – Book Review
- The Upcycle – Book Review
- Tools for Grassroots Activists – Book Review