Why I admire Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia

I recently watched this speech by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. It’s titled “The Education of a Reluctant Businessman” and it’s fantastic. He tells the story about how he went from not respecting business people to running a $500 million dollar per yer business, and it’s clear he hasn’t sacrificed his principles along the way.

But the cool thing to me was that the story is not about a company that grew rapidly and went public and how Chouinard became a multi-billionaire and retired. Rather, he still runs the company and says he’ll never take it public. In fact, I’ll paraphrase my favorite line from the speech: “The traditional path for companies like Patagonia would be to ignore profit and focus on growing revenue as fast as possible for a number of years. Then take the company public, sell your stock to a bunch of suckers, then spend the rest of your life playing golf. I will never do that.”

Rather, Chouinard says he doesn’t care if the company only grows 2-3% per year, but rather he is focused on making a profit and on making sure Patagonia keeps making products people like. He wants people to tell their friends and family about his products, so the company spends next-to-nothing on advertising. He’s also very focused on environmental sustainability issues, and it’s interesting to hear him tell how hard it is to manufacture a product without leaving a big footprint.

This video is an hour long, so it’s a significant investment of your time to watch it. But I can’t put into words how refreshing it is to know that a man who runs a $500 million dollar business doesn’t plan to cash out, keeps growing Patagonia primarily through word of mouth, and even wrote a booked titled “Let My People Go Surfing” (he likes hiring self-starters who don’t need management and wants them to surf when surf’s up so long as they get their work done).

We share a lot of the same philosophies as Yvon, so it’s nice to see how our unconventional beliefs about business don’t have to limit us, but, rather, may very well help us build the great brand we are trying to build. One customer at a time.