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

Title: Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman–Including 10 More Years of Business Unusual

By Yvon Chouinard

Link here

He is the founder and CEO of the Responsible Company, and Simple Fly Fishing, and Patagonia.

This book is not a marketing gimmick or any other self-promotional preachy book. It took me a bit, but Yvon wrote his first edition of this book took him fifteen years. I realized reading his book was essentially an invitation to be a part of his family.

You can tell a lot about him and Patagonia by this book. It is simple, authentic, consistent, zen, and has something to say.

The book is mainly divided into two parts. One is a history, a recount of how he has built his company. Second is a collection of philosophies like product design philosophy, financial philosophy, etc.

Reading this book is like opening his family album of his childhood and an honest account of failed his marriage after he was drafted to be in Korea. He was a small kid who couldn’t speak English in a public school in Burbank, California. His escape was with his friends in climbing.

He began his business exhibition when he partnered up with climbing friends who could design climbing tools. More they needed help, more they hired, friends, aunts, family members who could provide different areas of expertise. His HR manual was quite simple – just like the title of his book – you have to go surfing when the tide is right. He also joked that it also made it very difficult to fire his own people. His products were based on his own experience of traveling, climbing, and studying snow. He blurred distinction between work, play and family. Patagonia was his life.

He also mentions how he couldn’t find the companies he couldn’t model the values after. The one he did like was called Espirit, the original founders of North Face.

The book goes in-depth into his every struggle of the business building process from different types of fiber, design, to transportation. The compromises and decisions he had to make from “environmental and quality standards” always came with how to encourage the rest of the industry to work toward sustainability. It was always about quality over quantity – to stick to his core values and relationships to nurture those that demand time and energy – as friends and family.

“I think of Patagonia as an ecosystem, with its vendors ad customers as an integral part of that system. A problem anywhere in the system eventually affects the whole, and this gives everyone an overriding responsibility to the health of the whole organism. It also means that anyone, low on the totem pole or high, inside the company or out, can contribute significantly to the health of the company and to the integrity and value of our products.”

His marketing philosophy is as simple as it could get – “tell people who we are.” It was their heavy stance on their environmental issues. There was nothing to make up or to pretend or to even create a fictional character for. The below ad created quite a splash. It was on a full-page during Black Friday.

 ‘The Common Threads Initiative’ asks people to buy only what they need, repair what breaks, and re-use or recycle everything else.

“We’re at the opposite spectrum of big brand disposable fashion. We’re about making great quality products that are designed to last, so we have a lifetime warranty on our products.”

“Patagonia will never be completely socially responsible. It will never make a totally sustainable nondamaging product. But it is committed to trying.”

So, here I try to wrap up this recount of this amazing book I am so glad I have in hard copy. I’ll best try to carry on his message. We’re not the problem, therefore, each of us individually is not the solution. But those who are interested to start asking the right questions, this is where I would start.