An unlikely, yet completely authentic business manifesto: Let My People Go Surfing

Patagonia is a company I first learned about through my high school government teacher, who happened to have been a longtime friend of the founder of the company. The two had shared many adventures backpacking and hiking in remote locations over the years, and as my teacher at the time shared, the company’s image as granola-munching and tree-hugging hippies was quite authentic indeed.

Balancing altruistic and humanistic ideals with the need for business profitability is a dance Patagonia has performed well for decades, as Fast Company recently chronicled:

Sustainable business practices, corporate transparency, authentic brand marketing, family-friendly and flexible employee policies—flip through the business pages of any paper or magazine, or conference panel discussions, and you’ll find these are all de rigueur right now among progressive brands and companies looking for ways to connect with and retain both consumers and employees. They’re also all things Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard wrote extensively about more than a decade ago in his 2006 business memoir, Let My People Go Surfing.

The small iron works and climbing equipment shop Chouinard founded in 1957 has since expanded into a global brand, reaching more than $750 million in sales, and since current CEO Rose Marcario’s arrival in 2008 as CFO, a compound annual growth rate of 14%, and profits have tripled. Perhaps confounding to some, the company has done this while maintaining a strict commitment to sustainablility in its products and supply chain—whether its using 100% organic cotton and creating neoprene-free surfing wetsuits, to a marketing campaign encouraging people to buy less of its products. Though the company’s core philosophies remain the same, Chouinard has published a 10th anniversary update of his book to “share what we have done in the last decade and what we plan to do in the decade ahead to achieve our goals.”

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