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Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman

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In his long-awaited memoir, Yvon Chouinard-legendary climber, businessman, environmentalist, and founder of Patagonia, Inc.-shares the persistence and courage that have gone into being head of one of the most respected and environmentally responsible companies on earth. From his youth as the son of a French Canadian blacksmith to the thrilling, ambitious climbing expeditio In his long-awaited memoir, Yvon Chouinard-legendary climber, businessman, environmentalist, and founder of Patagonia, Inc.-shares the persistence and courage that have gone into being head of one of the most respected and environmentally responsible companies on earth. From his youth as the son of a French Canadian blacksmith to the thrilling, ambitious climbing expeditions that inspired his innovative designs for the sport's equipment, Let My People Go Surfing is the story of a man who brought doing good and having grand adventures into the heart of his business life-a book that will deeply affect entrepreneurs and outdoor enthusiasts alike.


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In his long-awaited memoir, Yvon Chouinard-legendary climber, businessman, environmentalist, and founder of Patagonia, Inc.-shares the persistence and courage that have gone into being head of one of the most respected and environmentally responsible companies on earth. From his youth as the son of a French Canadian blacksmith to the thrilling, ambitious climbing expeditio In his long-awaited memoir, Yvon Chouinard-legendary climber, businessman, environmentalist, and founder of Patagonia, Inc.-shares the persistence and courage that have gone into being head of one of the most respected and environmentally responsible companies on earth. From his youth as the son of a French Canadian blacksmith to the thrilling, ambitious climbing expeditions that inspired his innovative designs for the sport's equipment, Let My People Go Surfing is the story of a man who brought doing good and having grand adventures into the heart of his business life-a book that will deeply affect entrepreneurs and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

30 review for Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman

  1. 5 out of 5

    Preston Kutney

    I don't know where to start with my reverence for Chouinard. He's my anti-business business hero, a reluctant radical in corporate America. The book opens: "I've been a businessman for almost fifty years. It's as difficult for me to say those words as it is for someone to admit being an alcoholic or a lawyer. I've never respected the profession. It's business that has to take the majority of the blame for being the enemy of nature, for destroying native cultures, for taking from the poor and giv I don't know where to start with my reverence for Chouinard. He's my anti-business business hero, a reluctant radical in corporate America. The book opens: "I've been a businessman for almost fifty years. It's as difficult for me to say those words as it is for someone to admit being an alcoholic or a lawyer. I've never respected the profession. It's business that has to take the majority of the blame for being the enemy of nature, for destroying native cultures, for taking from the poor and giving to the rich, and for poisoning the earth with the effluent from its factories. Yet business can produce food, cure disease, control population, employ people, and generally enrich our lives. And it can do these good things and make a profit without losing its soul. That's what this book is about. " When I think about Patagonia, I think about a company that prioritizes its values over profits. The brand image of the company is not simply a product of skilled marketing, but an extension of the authenticity of its founder, and the culture he established. Chouinard never wanted to be a businessman, he didn't really care that much about making money; he simply needed to make a little cash so he could go climbing...and well, why not make climbing gear to do it? As the company slowly took off, Chouinard grappled with that success. In a pivotal moment for the company, a management guru asked Yvon "If the main goal of the company is to fund environmental causes, why not sell the company today for $100M, and give it all rather than a steady drip of 10% of your profits?". Chouinard struggled with that question until he figured out his answer years later: "I knew, after thirty-five years, why I was in business. True, I wanted to give money to environmental causes. But even more, I wanted to create in Patagonia a model other businesses could look to in their own searches for environmental stewardship and sustainability. " Today, Patagonia's mission statement is "Make the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis." This philosophy took decades to catch on, but today it is common knowledge that mission-driven businesses develop strong brands and loyal customers, attract the best employees, and often deliver above-average returns to investors with lower risk. When we think of contemporary innovative business leaders, we often think of people who developed products that made the future come to life. Yvon Chouinard did create a few new products, but that is far from being the most significant part of his contribution to the advancement of management. I would argue that the paradigm shift that is still under way, that you can "do well by doing good", which owes so much to Patagonia's example and success, will prove to be one of the most important business innovations of our age, and a key component of what (hopefully) tips us into a cleaner economy.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Miller

    Patagonia is an amazing company with great products and a commendable mission. I'm probably more apt to purchase something from Patagonia than from one of their competitors after reading this book, but I don't subscribe to Chouinard's overwhelming anti-establishment sentiment. Somebody's got to make enough money to buy their $500 ski jackets, and it isn't the dirtbags living out of their cars, smoking pot and eating cat tuna. The environmental conservation movement should not have to be so polar Patagonia is an amazing company with great products and a commendable mission. I'm probably more apt to purchase something from Patagonia than from one of their competitors after reading this book, but I don't subscribe to Chouinard's overwhelming anti-establishment sentiment. Somebody's got to make enough money to buy their $500 ski jackets, and it isn't the dirtbags living out of their cars, smoking pot and eating cat tuna. The environmental conservation movement should not have to be so polarizing to be effective. Many "Patagoniacs" have a general disdain for people that work in professional services, but somehow don't appreciate that these are the very people that keep their company afloat! That said, a lot of their philosophy is, in my opinion, spot on. Buy better quality, keep it for a lot longer, etc.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    This book changes you. If you don't come away doing SOMETHING more for the environment than you already are, well then I think there's something wrong with you. It's a do as I do book, and is quite effective at that. My company's next two printing projects will be done on 100 percent post-consumer content paper, produced with wind-generated power, and in a smaller format footprint than previously intended...because of this book. I'm riding my bike to work more often ... because of this book. I l This book changes you. If you don't come away doing SOMETHING more for the environment than you already are, well then I think there's something wrong with you. It's a do as I do book, and is quite effective at that. My company's next two printing projects will be done on 100 percent post-consumer content paper, produced with wind-generated power, and in a smaller format footprint than previously intended...because of this book. I'm riding my bike to work more often ... because of this book. I leave my car home on the weekends and do the grocery shopping with my children all on our bikes, each with a backpack ... because of this book. It all matters. It all adds up.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mason Wiebe

    Chouinard’s story of his values and what led him to start Patagonia. The principles that drive his company are really his own and he is a reluctant businessman. Big focus on quality, durability and doing more with less. He is a committed environmentalist and believes businesses should be responsible for the damage they do to the Earth. Refreshing. Quotes I liked: Doing risk sport had taught me another important lesson: never exceed your limits. You push the envelope and you live for those moments Chouinard’s story of his values and what led him to start Patagonia. The principles that drive his company are really his own and he is a reluctant businessman. Big focus on quality, durability and doing more with less. He is a committed environmentalist and believes businesses should be responsible for the damage they do to the Earth. Refreshing. Quotes I liked: Doing risk sport had taught me another important lesson: never exceed your limits. You push the envelope and you live for those moments when you’re right on the edge, but you don’t go over. You have to be true to yourself; you have to know your strengths and limitations and live within your means. -Yvon Chouinard The more you know, the less you need. -Yvon Chouinard Everything we personally own that’s made, sold, shipped, stored, cleaned, and ultimately thrown away does some environmental harm every step of the way, harm that we’re either directly responsible for or is done on our behalf. -Yvon Chouinard How you climb a mountain is more important than reaching the top. -Yvon Chouinard The goal of climbing big, dangerous mountains should be to attain some sort of spiritual and personal growth, but this won’t happen if you compromise away the entire process. -Yvon Chouinard …the worst thing said about him is that he was “uncurious.” -Yvon Chouinard …most of the damage we cause to the planet is the result of our own ignorance. -Yvon Chouinard

  5. 5 out of 5

    Cate

    I love origin stories, and was drawn to this to read the story of how Chouinard lives a life of adventure while running a successful business. The beginning was interesting, I liked reading about his early years and how he started making climbing equipment basically on the beach and growing that into a business. The "reluctant" part of the business story wears thin pretty quickly: this guy obviously knows how to run a business, and wants to run a business, so the whole I'm-really-just-an-outdoor I love origin stories, and was drawn to this to read the story of how Chouinard lives a life of adventure while running a successful business. The beginning was interesting, I liked reading about his early years and how he started making climbing equipment basically on the beach and growing that into a business. The "reluctant" part of the business story wears thin pretty quickly: this guy obviously knows how to run a business, and wants to run a business, so the whole I'm-really-just-an-outdoor-guy-now-running-a-whoopsie!-business does not ring true. As the book goes on, it reads more like an extended version of a Patagonia catalog with Successories-type side bars meant to inspire(!). If you are interested in thread count and sewing techniques of shell jackets, this book is for you. If not, you might find yourself, like I did, paging through it like any other mail catalog while the tv is on and the dinner is warming up on the stove.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Willian Molinari

    It was 3 stars until 70% of the book but the ending deserves 4. This book is the story of Patagonia and how its founders deal with business, people, and the environment. Their way of life resonates a lot with what I think is a good way to live. Maintain a sustainable business, hire people you trust and give them enough freedom to live a good life while giving their best to make the company grow, thinking about the environment, grow only when you have to grow (to supply your demand), live a minimal It was 3 stars until 70% of the book but the ending deserves 4. This book is the story of Patagonia and how its founders deal with business, people, and the environment. Their way of life resonates a lot with what I think is a good way to live. Maintain a sustainable business, hire people you trust and give them enough freedom to live a good life while giving their best to make the company grow, thinking about the environment, grow only when you have to grow (to supply your demand), live a minimalistic life, and so many other stuff. The book speaks in the first person, about their own story, but here are some notes I took: * You don't make it perfect when you add everything you can, but when you remove everything possible and keep it to the bare minimum * Employ people who share the fundamental values of the corporation while representing cultural and ethical diversity * The quality of the product is related to its use * Provide ways to fix the product because each new product manufactured is a piece of the environment that goes away * People say they can't contact someone but this is a dishonest answer. They don't want to do it or it doesn't have a high priority for them * Deliver what your client wants when he wants it. If you don't do that he will look for a company who does. After he does that it's hard to get him again. * Expect your supplier to deliver on schedule, but you have to do the same * American companies fail in Japanese market because they try to do business by the book. * Show people who you are as a company, not a fictional character. There are companies creating fictional characters for what they want people to see, not the real truth. It's easier to show the real company if you really live what you say. * Profits happen when you do everything right. It's a consequence. * Grow only in natural rate. If there is no product in the stock, it means we have to produce more and it's natural growth * Don't create an artificial advertisement for your goods just to increase the demand. Create a product that your clients really need. We want customers that need our product, not just desire it. * We don't want to be a big company, we want to be the best company. * Hire many as people as possible who use your product and like it, they will make it even better * I never saw a company who wants to build the best product ever when people who work there are not passionate about it * We prefer to hire from our network of friends and business associates. We don't want stars seeking for special treatment, we look for the best person for the job, even if it means keeping a position open for a long time. * It's easier to teach the work to people who have your culture and like your product, but it's really hard to teach culture for high-skilled people * Let my people go surfing and believe they will not abuse their benefits. Everyone can make their own work time. Work whenever you want and feel more productive and enjoy your life. * We don't want soldiers who obey orders, we want people who question every decision and wants to make the best for the product * Managers must be always available for those who report to them. Have a common place for people to exchange ideas (cafeteria) * The answer for global environmental change is action. Don't wait for others or for the technology to solve the problem, act now * No businessman change aggressively one department without thinking on the rest of the company, but that's what is happening to the environment * A company that builds landmines but don't know what they do should go to a country where they are a problem to locals, so they can see what their product to the people. All companies should do the same with the environment. * Evil is the absence of good. If you can do good and you're doing nothing, you are doing evil. * The more you know, the less you need

  7. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    I'm always wary of the stories of successful people who make it seem like they fell into their success. At the same time, because Patagonia is, for a for-profit business, very environmentally responsible and family-oriented, I really wanted to like this book. Unfortunately, I didn't. The beginning is pretty interesting, as Chouinard writes about his early life and how his company started making better equipment for mountain climbers. I was with him for this part. He figured out how to build a bet I'm always wary of the stories of successful people who make it seem like they fell into their success. At the same time, because Patagonia is, for a for-profit business, very environmentally responsible and family-oriented, I really wanted to like this book. Unfortunately, I didn't. The beginning is pretty interesting, as Chouinard writes about his early life and how his company started making better equipment for mountain climbers. I was with him for this part. He figured out how to build a better mousetrap and the world beat a path to his door. As the company grew, Chouinard wrote about how little he knew about business. Mostly, he wanted to keep climbing and surfing and fishing. He makes it seem as if his business sort of magically grew. I find that much harder to swallow. You don't get to be the size of Patagonia without some very savvy business people running things. While at first it was just Chouinard and his friends, my guess is that not every employee was a ski bum. There are many reasons to laud Patagonia. The company is incredibly environmentally responsible. They were on the forefront of implementing family leave for employees who gave birth. They had child-care on site so that families can be together. But as another reviewer pointed out, Patagonia clothing is damned expensive. Chouinard certainly touts Patagonia as a company run by thrill-seeking iconoclasts for thrill-seeking iconoclasts. Then he charges prices that only lawyers and corporate executives who want to come off as thrill-seekers can afford. In my opinion, this book is a little disingenuous. Chouinard may be a reluctant businessman, but he certainly hired some very competent businesspeople to work for him and help build his company. That was not the message I was looking for out of this book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Renee

    I expected to dislike this book and dislike YC after reading it, but I was wrong. I was actually quite impressed with his vision and efforts and *some* of his business policies. Most criticisms I hear about Patagonia are one of two things. First, that it’s too expensive. This is discussed and makes sense to me. He wanted to make the best quality possible, that could last a long, long time, to reduce waste. At the same time, he’s not looking to be dry-clean only, but durable and usable. I have ha I expected to dislike this book and dislike YC after reading it, but I was wrong. I was actually quite impressed with his vision and efforts and *some* of his business policies. Most criticisms I hear about Patagonia are one of two things. First, that it’s too expensive. This is discussed and makes sense to me. He wanted to make the best quality possible, that could last a long, long time, to reduce waste. At the same time, he’s not looking to be dry-clean only, but durable and usable. I have had two expensive Patagonia coats. One I wore until the zipper broke, and I mailed it in and they replaced the zipper, free of charge. The other fell apart at the seams after a strange interaction with my dryer sheets, we think, and they replaced it with the newer year’s version, which would have cost more, again free of charge and with no hassle. These experiences match what he preaches in his book. Yes, I pay more upfront, but less in the long run if it truly lasts. Also, pro deals are to let those who truly are passionate about the sport afford the gear for much less. He’s not trying to make the cheapest disposable product. Walmart has that covered. Second, people love to say that Patagonia only supports environmental causes bc it’s advertising and will help them sell more. I liked how he described how each time they made a change to better the environment, it actually saved them money. If you find a way to support your cause and run a business, that doesn’t seem worse to me than just running a business. He acknowledges the press/marketing they get, but it doesn’t mean they don’t actually care. I did feel it fell flat in some parts, esp the parts about management. Not his area of expertise. I also felt annoyed that he seems to think that working in the outdoor industry is the only worthy and valuable career. He makes fun of lawyers, but I bet he’s needed them. He seems oblivious at times to the fact that not everyone needs to live his way or share his priorities. I think this is kind of common in that world. Overall a good read, and I learned a lot of interesting history of climbing and enjoyed his learnings on business from several angles.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Enrico Berta

    At certain times a bit idealistic and naive, however overall, if read with a certain sense of "self-conciousness" knowing that it simply won't be that easy and that many more factors are to be considered (like for example the high pricing of his clothing which he doesn't tackle at all or that working towards a sustainable environment is for most people a privilege many people simply cannot afford (here it is also important to mention that it is on the other hand usually the privileged ones who c At certain times a bit idealistic and naive, however overall, if read with a certain sense of "self-conciousness" knowing that it simply won't be that easy and that many more factors are to be considered (like for example the high pricing of his clothing which he doesn't tackle at all or that working towards a sustainable environment is for most people a privilege many people simply cannot afford (here it is also important to mention that it is on the other hand usually the privileged ones who can do something against it that are causing the environmental problems with vast overconsumption)) literally a "goodread" for me and I recommend it to anyone who is at least slightly concerned about the direction in which our world is going. Well sourced and decorated with marvellous pictures too. Sorry for the long brackets :)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ben Gigone

    Should be required reading for every entrepreneur and business-person. Our world will be much better off when more companies structure themselves alongside Chouinard’s philosophies. Patagonia 4ever

  11. 4 out of 5

    Henry Manson

    Very informative. Very scary. Some cool pictures too.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ynna

    Yvon Chouinard wanted to make a little extra cash so so he could support his rock climbing hobby and decided to create his own climbing equipment. Years later, a simple desire to do what he loved evolved into an outdoor recreation company recognized for its quality, consistency, and sustainability. After reading this memoir, Patagonia means so much more to me now than colorful fleece pullovers and vests. Chouinard's unusual approach to business includes campaigns which literally ask customers no Yvon Chouinard wanted to make a little extra cash so so he could support his rock climbing hobby and decided to create his own climbing equipment. Years later, a simple desire to do what he loved evolved into an outdoor recreation company recognized for its quality, consistency, and sustainability. After reading this memoir, Patagonia means so much more to me now than colorful fleece pullovers and vests. Chouinard's unusual approach to business includes campaigns which literally ask customers not to buy his products, offering repair services for used or damaged products and donating 1% of all sales to environmental causes. Perhaps the most endearing thing I learned about Patagonia is their dedication to families. Yvon and his wife Malinda didn't want to run a company where parents had to be away from their children, especially during the early years of childhood so they worked to create on-site childcare services and generous maternity and paternity leaves. Besides sharing his business philosophy, Yvon shares his Zen inspired life philosophies and how he incorporates his desire to do good into his business practices. I was inspired and humbled when reading this and forced to re-think my very American consumer habits. My biggest takeaways from Let My People Go Surfing were: 1) Buy only what you need and make sure it's high quality so you don't have to buy it again 2) The earth is dying and we are killing it 3) It's the little efforts of human beings striving to do good and make the world better that combine to make significant positive changes for our planet and generations to come This book also includes dozens of beautiful pictures of Patagonia employees enjoying themselves in nature as well as incredible scenery from around the world. I have a definition of evil different from most people. Evil doesn't have to be an overt act, it can be merely the absence of good. If you have the ability, the resources, and the opportunity to do good and you do nothing, that can be evil.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alper Çuğun

    Chouinard tells the story of how the succes of his company Patagonia has forced him to invent a whole and balanced way of doing business. He takes a longer term view focused on real sustainability and in doing so he does does away with conventional business paradigms where the goal is growth at any cost. Patagonia as told by Chouinard is an example for the rest of the world with a dedication to the highest level of quality and the lowest amount of side-effects, environmentally and socially. Once Chouinard tells the story of how the succes of his company Patagonia has forced him to invent a whole and balanced way of doing business. He takes a longer term view focused on real sustainability and in doing so he does does away with conventional business paradigms where the goal is growth at any cost. Patagonia as told by Chouinard is an example for the rest of the world with a dedication to the highest level of quality and the lowest amount of side-effects, environmentally and socially. Once you have read this, morality alone should convince you that there is no other way of doing business.The story Chouinard tells is reminiscent of Ricardo Semler's story in the Seven-Day Weekend but whereas Semler's stories tell of an anecdotal success, Chouinard rolls out a comprehensive philosophy that is the basis for all of Patagonia's action and takes Semler's principles to their logical conclusion.I am not an environmentalist in the traditional sense of the word but change is necessary. I think we can and will live in harmony with the environment if we employ a positive world changing outlook, technological progress, market forces and cradle to cradle thinking in a good way. Chouinard gives example after example of these strategies and the change they have created. Patagonia is both a profitable company and an exemplary environmentalist at the same time. They show how doing things right can be more fun, better for the world and cheaper in the long run.Personally this book has persuaded me that conservation of nature and the last pieces of wilderness is important and that the resources we consume should be in balance with the planet harvested organically and sustainably. In business the example of Patagonia has strengthened my resolve to be in business myself. For the same reasons: to do what you believe in, do good and to lead by an example others can follow.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    This book starts out as a fantastic story of Patagonia, the outdoor gear and clothing retailer. Then Chouinard, the founder of the company, breaks down the company into its value components. It would be great, except he repeats the same details he spoke of in the beginning. I would have appreciated a better integration of the two parts. Overall, a very interesting read, and a great lesson about keeping to your values and making sacrifices early to reap benefits later.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kenny Leck

    In Yvon Chouinard's words, "I have a definition of evil different from most people. Evil doesn't have to be an overt act; it can be merely the absence of good. If you have the ability, the resources, and the opportunity to do good and you do nothing, that can be evil."

  16. 4 out of 5

    Emily McKinney

    5 stars for the first section describing how Patagonia came to be, 2 stars for the second section where the book turned into a many- paged Patagonia advertisement.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Grace Lawrence

    Amazing book. We’re all going to die of global warming but besides that feeling of crippling depression, great read!

  18. 4 out of 5

    WJ

    This book is depressing but also inspiring. I am going to give it to my boss 🙂

  19. 5 out of 5

    Chris Kendig

    This book is interesting and provides some insight into the mind of a successful businessman who doesn't fetishize business (a rarity in my experience). Patagonia is undoubtedly a company that can thrive if/as the world becomes more just and responsible (also a rarity in my experience).

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

    Great book - it wasn't quite what I was expecting, but still really enjoyed it. I liked hearing about Yvon's backstory and the philosophy behind Patagonia's business practices. The way that the reader is called to action is compelling too, appreciated the points backed up by stats that were referenced. I'll likely read the second half of the book again, as I wasn't prepared for the content and I found I wasn't in the right head space to digest it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Brooke

    I don't know if this book really deserves 5 stars but Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia's business priorities definitely deserve 5 stars. I'm sure Patagonia has more faults than the book lets on but their dedication to the environment is inspiring. I need to go buy something from them.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Eivind Lindbråten

    Inspiring book showing us how to practice ethical business and how difficult that is. Some of the ideas are quite radical. 🌱

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lucia

    A total must-read. This book belongs to hands of every person walking this planet. It proudly takes the place of the best book I've ever read. It wasn't worth only for my studies on climate change, but mainly on my view of consumption. This book has a plenty of topics to teach you - climate change, doing a business, cooperating with people, being fair - through amazing outdoor adventures. This book teaches you how to think twice before buying a piece of clothes (or anything producing waste), or A total must-read. This book belongs to hands of every person walking this planet. It proudly takes the place of the best book I've ever read. It wasn't worth only for my studies on climate change, but mainly on my view of consumption. This book has a plenty of topics to teach you - climate change, doing a business, cooperating with people, being fair - through amazing outdoor adventures. This book teaches you how to think twice before buying a piece of clothes (or anything producing waste), or gives you all the reasons on why to favor more expensive clothes of higher quality. Also, it gives you brand new perspective on how to make an eco-friendly business and environment itself. It's been said lately that we shall let the environment lead our development - Chouinard was practicing this ever since he founded Patagonia, several decades ago. I'd consider this man a hero of the business. Definitely recommended to everyone - you don't have to be a businessman, either a student of climate change.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Vidya Balakrishnan

    This book is a must read. The author Chouinard talks about his experience as an entrepreneur. He is a nature enthusiast who happened to become successful thanks to his passion for the outdoors. What really stood out about this book is the vision and mission he had for his company Patagonia. Its amazing to read how much they believe in a cause and how much they strive to make the world a better place. Apart from the growth of Patagonia he also discusses and enlightens the reader on sustainability This book is a must read. The author Chouinard talks about his experience as an entrepreneur. He is a nature enthusiast who happened to become successful thanks to his passion for the outdoors. What really stood out about this book is the vision and mission he had for his company Patagonia. Its amazing to read how much they believe in a cause and how much they strive to make the world a better place. Apart from the growth of Patagonia he also discusses and enlightens the reader on sustainability and in what small ways any person can take responsibility and help. Patagonia is a poster child of organizations.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Märt

    There’s a funny stereotype of venture capitalists wearing Patagonia vests, and after reading this book, for all that Patagonia stands for, I’d love to live their values and have some of that gear as well. Starting out as the makers of climbing gear in the 1960s, Patagonia grew into one of the leading outdoor equipment manufacturers by breaking many traditional business rules. Yvon Chouinard’s and his team's goal of making great products expanded over time so that great products meant being great There’s a funny stereotype of venture capitalists wearing Patagonia vests, and after reading this book, for all that Patagonia stands for, I’d love to live their values and have some of that gear as well. Starting out as the makers of climbing gear in the 1960s, Patagonia grew into one of the leading outdoor equipment manufacturers by breaking many traditional business rules. Yvon Chouinard’s and his team's goal of making great products expanded over time so that great products meant being great to customers, to outsourcing partners, to the environment, and to the world. This resulted in a number of innovations and interesting developments, some of which are listed below. In many ways, Patagonia is pointing the way how to run the company in the (sustainable) future. Some things I learned: * Patagonia invented the concept of layering, which is foundational to outdoor clothing: base layer, insulation, shell * Patagonia Catalog, running since the 1970s, has educated and inspired customers rather than pushed for specifics products (which also leads to more sales). A lot of their famous innovations in products, business and environmental action have started out as essays in Catalog * They pioneered applying industrial clothing design principles. For example, an item must allow full range of arm movement, breathe and dry quickly, be easily washable, multifunctional, and easy to repair. Long lasting products are good for the environment and the customer. There are Patagonia vintage stores in Tokyo. They have North America’s largest clothes repair facility. * In marketing materials, they have two kinds of copy: descriptive that tells products, and inspiring that communicates values. Same with photos: they have product photos without people, and they have real photos with actual people doing authentic things. If it’s hard to promote the product they are making (ie. it has no good story or it's not unique), they probably should not be making it. * Patagonia wants their company to feel like home for people who want to change the world. * "Let my people go surfing” is the name of their flex time policy. Company should allow its employees to live the best lives, including being able to go surfing when the waves are perfect. * Chouinard was the "80% practitioner" of each event - mountain climbing, surfing, hiking, etc - which explains the wide product line of Patagonia. Somebody needs to go out and take the temperature of the world. They stay away from motorized sports such as snow-mobiling. * Venturo HQ with 500 employees has a child development center for 60 children. This is great for bonding with children and keeps moms at work as much as possible. * When there is no crisis, a good CEO will invent one by challenging the employees with change. The author is most proud of the 1984 to 86 transfer to organic cotton, which led to the writing down of their philosophies. * Sustainable manufacturing is an oxymoron. When they started looking in the 90s by how much their products pollute, they were surprised by the real extent. They work super hard to educate their entire supply chain to raise their standards, and build long-term partnerships. * Since 1980s have diverted 1% of sales for 10% of profits whichever is bigger, despite the economy, towards environment. * They use only accounting practices as approved by CFO which gives the most accurate true picture of the financial position, ignoring many legal ways to manipulate and show profit every quarter. The final part of the book is about our disastrous treatment of the environment. Some points: * It seems like almost in all fields successful organisations and people keep doing more evil as they grow bigger whereas they could easily do more good. * We've been cooking the books for a long time by leaving out the worth of nature. * Study in UK in the 1990s showed that since 1940s vegetables had lost 75% of their nutrients. * We are killing lots of species in the rainforest without knowing how they could benefit us in the form of medicine or otherwise, and more importantly what catastrophic effects that might have on the ecosystem. * Rates of all kinds of cancers have dramatically risen since mid-century. Pharmaceutical and agriculture company CEOs have vested interest in inventing "cures” and in keeping the research away from pollution which is the true cause. Of the 84,000 chemicals in use today, only 1% have been tested for whether they cause cancer. * The world needs a revolution in agriculture. Nowhere is a crisis worse than food production, which comes at the cost of destroying topsoil, displacing the small farmer, polluting groundwater and the ozone. And in the end, it produces less food per acre than natural farming. Nature does not like mono crops. * Existing agriculture continues to be the paradigm because of massive subsidies from governments to big farmers and fossil fuel industry. 30% of land and 70% of water is used for agriculture. * We could possibly reverse the entire global warming footprint by changing the way we farm and do animal husbandry, because this kind of farming sequesters carbon. * Patagonia Provisions aims to do good with the food they produce and the harvesting practices they employ. * Three main benefits of going back to the traditional agriculture methods: 1) we will have more nutritious food, 2) we will provide meaningful work for many people displaced by the technological revolution, 3) changing agriculture is our best shot at fixing climate. * People who make products that ultimately hurt the environment are not excused by the fact that they need jobs or the customer wants the product. * You are what you do, not what you say you are. * We are the people we have been waiting for - Navajo medicine man

  26. 4 out of 5

    Christian Allen

    Bit wordy on their company philosophy but really great ideas on how companies can minimize their impact on the environment. Best was their use of recycled soda bottles to create synthentic polyesters and paying employee's two months salary if they work fulltime in environmental activism. They even pay the bail of those participating in civil disobedience cases for environmental protection!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Will

    This book is a history lesson on outdoors culture, a mission statement on how to conduct responsible business and be a thoughtful citizen of our planet, and a call to action to preserve our wilderness as told through the story of Chouinard Equipment (the climbing hardware manufacturer which would become Black Diamond) and Patagonia, the iconic outdoor wear company. 4-1/2*

  28. 4 out of 5

    Valentine

    A very inspiring book for the business student that I am. It changed a bit my view on business and helped me to see how sustainable companies can be built. 100% recommended to everyone!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Abhishek Anbazhagan

    Let me people go surfing is part business meditations, part personal memoir, and part lamentation about the future of our world. While I am not a stranger to Patagonia’s story, this book was still delightfully surprised me. Yvon with clarity and brevity on topics that have spawned entire disciplines - How to build products, Build a meaningful company, Sacrifices one has to make in the pursuit sustainability. If you are hoping to read this book to build a sustainability strategy– Stop now. Patago Let me people go surfing is part business meditations, part personal memoir, and part lamentation about the future of our world. While I am not a stranger to Patagonia’s story, this book was still delightfully surprised me. Yvon with clarity and brevity on topics that have spawned entire disciplines - How to build products, Build a meaningful company, Sacrifices one has to make in the pursuit sustainability. If you are hoping to read this book to build a sustainability strategy– Stop now. Patagonia’s approach to sustainability is almost puritanical - Do the right thing even if it is not profitable. But how they stayed in business for this long? Yvon is radical and an original. The ones that live at the fringes of society always are – for better or for worse. There are business people I admire for their vision, their genius, their machinations but Yvon is someone I admire for being a paradox against conventional business wisdom. In an age where there is no ethical answer to “What is the purpose of a business?” Yvon has a lofty goal – “Use business to protect nature”. While you roll your eye at how this corporate mission statement like many others, is cringe-worthy, Patagonia’s actions demonstrate that it is neither corporate nor cringe. Some things they've done in the recent past include: - Giving 1% of their revenue to grassroots climate activism (Revenue not Profit) - Donated $10 million saved from Trump tax cuts to environmental groups - Lets it people to go surfing as long as their work is done - One of the earliest companies to bring on-site childcare Early in the business, when he realized the steel pitons made by his company were causing significant damage to the cracks of Yosemite, he stopped making those pitons even though they constituted 70% of his income. Later, the did it again by switching from synthetic or organic cotton even when the customer didn’t care about the type of cotton. What business in the world would willingly shrink its margins? Is there strategic insight here ? No. Patagonia wants to use business to protect nature. Do you still think that is just some corporate mission statement? Before you dream up some image of Yvon being a child of some Trust Fund, know that he was a dirtbag rockclimber who once was arrested and didn’t have the 15 cents it was required to get back home. He grew up with scarcity but found abundance in the land and has spent the rest of his life protecting the land. This book made me realize how cynically I’ve become. I poured through this book with intensity and kept hoping for a moment when the mask slips and the lie is revealed. Fortunately, every step that Patagonia has taken for its employees, products, and the environment is sincere and built on sacrifice. How can a company be true to themselves, not operate at scale, be successful for such an extended period? I don’t know but I am filled with reverence. Chapters about Patagonia’s product philosophy were prescriptive. There is a reverence for quality that is inspiring as a customer and terrifying if I were a competitor. His musings around pricing and quality, right from when he was selling pitons from the back of his car, were revelatory. I also liked the honesty Yvon offers when he talks about how sustainability is not a viable option to feed and clothe everyone on the planet. The solution he offers is for everyone to consume less and more consciously. Alas, this change in a global civilization won’t come but Patagonia will keep trying. The modern-day economy is full of paradoxes, society will ask for Socialism after reading a copy of The Communist Manifesto they ordered on Amazon. There is a general disconnect between thought and action because action requires sacrifices of convenience. I am a contradiction too. I value the outdoors and hate animal abuse yet I cannot stop eating factory-farmed meat. I chose to live with this cognitive dissonance. I am lying to everyone and to myself. Ask yourself, what are your values, and what have you sacrificed for them? As John Stewart once said – “If you don't stick to your values when they're being tested, they're not values: they're hobbies”. Patagonia always does.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    "There is no business to be done on a dead planet." - David Bower Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman is a well-written, interesting and inspiring if somewhat repetitive business memoir by Patagonia founder and owner Yvon Chouinard. It is also entertaining, such as the story about their Pledge-a-Picket program. For every protester outside their stores for their support for Planned Parenthood, Patagonia pledged to give 10 USD to Planned Parenthood. The boycott quick "There is no business to be done on a dead planet." - David Bower Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman is a well-written, interesting and inspiring if somewhat repetitive business memoir by Patagonia founder and owner Yvon Chouinard. It is also entertaining, such as the story about their Pledge-a-Picket program. For every protester outside their stores for their support for Planned Parenthood, Patagonia pledged to give 10 USD to Planned Parenthood. The boycott quickly collapsed. As an outdoorsy person, the one thing I have never been able to come to terms with is the environmental impact of my equipment. Even if my fleece is made from recycled PET bottles, it is far better not to make the bottles in the first place. But then, what do we make fleece out of - raw materials? And if not, how do I stay warm when wet without a fleece or a Gortex wind jacket? Organic wool or a down feather jacket still have huge environmental impacts even if the sheep and geese are free range and organic. It seems I have always known about the Patagonia company, and that they had some environmental values, but 3 am on a cold Maine morning of a canoe trip or hike and in need of a last minute item, I always headed to L.L. Bean. If I had known more about Patagonia, or cared more at that time, I probably would have switched my loyalties. But I was still on the fence about my environmental values, mostly because I had massive student loans to consider and Patagonia's products were a bit more high-end than I could afford. However, as Chouinard has described, Patagonia has been far ahead of the field from its inception. Through its innovation and commitment, Patagonia has been able to make more environmentally-friendly outdoor products and clothing more accessible, and more importantly, more affordable for the general public. Even though Chouinard has said, "Sustainable manufacturing is an oxymoron," the company's search for sustainable manufacturing has led to some interesting data, and even more inspiring solutions. Consider the following: The post-sale care and maintenance of clothing causes up to 4x the environmental harm as the manufacture. For example, machine drying does more to shorten the life of a piece of clothing than actual wear - just look in the lint filter! Buy used, don't iron or dry clean, wash in cold water and line dry (or the amazing "fregoli" in Hungary) Dr. Thomas Power of the University of Montana has found that "only 10-15% of what Americans spend on goods and services is necessary for survival." They spend the other 85-90% on upgrades in quality. The single greatest use of energy in product lifespan is transport. A Patagonia shirt consumes 110000 BTUs, while transport from Ventura to Boston is 50000 BTUs. As a result, Patagonia encourages transport by boat, and discourages next-day service by plane. Patagonia's mission in part states that they aim to "make the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis... Our bottom line is the amount of good that the business has accomplished over the year...Using business to implement and inspire solutions to the environmental crisis." It idealistically claims to measure success by the number of trees not cut, kilograms of pesticides not used, wilderness areas created or preserved. As Chouinard says, "It's ok to be eccentric, as long as you are rich; otherwise you are just crazy." However, he has made it work by tying profits to the quality of the products and services, not to the environment. "Having useful products allows you to expand your mission." Patagonia's Environmental Policy Lead an examined life (see Socrates', "An unexamined life is not worth living," in Plato's Dialogues) Clean up our own act Do your penance Support civil democracy Influence other companies Patagonia has made a great number of innovations both in more sustainable manufacturing and corporate social responsibility. It was the first in the US to start on-site daycare for employees, and provide 60 days paid paternity/maternity leave. Many of its products are reusable and multifunctional, such as their first major product innovation the reusable and less intrusive piton. During the 1980's it phased out plastic bags in waste baskets, saving 1200 USD/yr. Everyone became responsible for their own recycling, with some special baskets for wet waste around the office. They removed coffee cups at the company cafe, saving 800 USD/yr, and discontinued Styrofoam cups. Everyone brought their own reusable ceramic coffee cups. They reused cardboard boxes in the mailroom, saving 1000 USD/yr. Patagonia installed compact fluorescent light bulbs, painted the ceilings in reflective colors, added skylights and installed solar panels. In 1984, it was the first in the US to use a high percentage of recycled paper in its catalog, saving 3.5kwh electricity, 6 million gallons water, 52000 lbs air pollutants, 1560 m3 out of landfills, and 14500 trees. In 1986, it decided to donate 10% of their profits each year to small environmental and social NGOs; later 1% of sales or 10% of pre-tax profits. Since 1985, this has amounted to over 38 million USD to over 1000 organisations. In 1988, Patagonia launched its first of many national environmental campaigns, to de-urbanise Yosemite Valley. Since then, it has founded Friends of Ventura River to save salmon and the river; campaigned against GATT, against GMOs; and against heavy truck traffic through the Alps. In 1993, it was the first to begin producing fleece jackets from recycled PET bottles. It takes 25 PET bottles to make 1 fleece jacket, and between 1993-2003 this has resulted in the recycling of over 86 million PET bottles. In 1996, they did a life-cycle analysis for the 4 major fibers they use: cotton, wool, polyester and nylon. Cotton had the worst impact. Twenty-five percent of the insecticides and 10% of the pesticides used annually worldwide are used on cotton. Even though organic cotton was 50-100% more expensive, the company switched to 100% organic cotton between 1994-96. Even so, there are still impacts from formaldehyde; synthetic dyes, strong cotton thread, and water (see the Aral Sea!). The neon nylon dyes were found to be toxic, so they switched to less toxic alternatives; except there was no solution for orange, so they stopped the orange lines. In 2004, Patagonia built a new 3-story office building, but out of 95% recycled materials. Straw bale houses are fireproof, earthquake proof, mildew-proof, termite-proof, energy efficient, 25% cheaper. The amount of rice straw burned in the US each year could build 5 million 2000 m2 houses. They took thermal underwear out of the cardboard and Ziploc bags, and instead rolled them up in a simple rubber band. This simple change saved 12 tons of packaging, 150000 USD, and sales went up 25% because customers could better see and feel the product. They took all PVC out of their products with the exception of lifejackets. Comprehensive health care is provided for all, including part-time employees. Patagonia provides matching funds for employee donations to environmental/ social groups. Furthermore, employees can leave on 2 months paid leave to work on an environmental project. Let My People Go Surfing describes the company's job sharing and flexible working hours program. Patagonia employees lobbied for and got 2 million acres declared protected wilderness in Nevada. A retail outlet's parking lot in Utah became the first recycling station in the entire state. The book has in fact made me think. As a small business owner whose profile is environmental, I have had to consider many of the same issues as Chouinard. Some issues have been environmental impact, such as do I se locally produced organic Hungarian milk which is packaged in non-sustainable multi-layered cartons, or organic milk from Germany that is in refillable bottles? Or even more fundamentally, do I serve organic air Trade coffee at all, considering its large environmental footprint from transport? Moreover, I have had to consider why in fact I am in business; and what defines quality, or a degree of excellence at Treehugger Dan's. Also, if my company has slow growth or no growth, how do I become more efficient each year? Since I am also a reluctant businessman, and environmentalist first, I, like Chouinard, have had a lot to learn about business and also and how to keep the balance. "There is money to be made by endlessly working on symptoms." What Patagonia has shown is that there is also money to be made by working on the causes. I am not saying Patagonia is faultless. For example, while it ays 2000 USD towards any employee's purchase of hybrid or electric car and reserves the best parking spaces for the most fuel-efficient cars, working on more long-term solutions would be encouraging the use and development of public transportation. But at least Patagonia are trying, and with verve and sincerity.

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