Wednesday, July 29, 2009

09.24 Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman (2005) by Yvon Chouinard
Trade, Penguin, 258 p.

As regular readers of the Report know, I don't generally read business books (I leave that to Buzby). However, a co-worker lent me this book and assured me that it was an interesting and worthwhile read.

Yvon Chouinard, if you don't know, is the founder and owner of the company Patagonia. These days Patagonia is what they call a lifestyle brand - meaning that the comapny has moved far beyond what they initially made and now sell outdoor clothes mainly to urban folk.

The first half of the book which is by far the most interesting describes how Chouinard started Patgonia and how it grew. His family came from Quebec and moved to California when he was at an early age. The young Chouinard was an avid fisherman, hiker, surfer and above all, a climber. He decided that he wanted to start making his own climbing gear and began manufacturing high quality pitons and carabiners on his own. Slowly the reputation of his equipment grew and he hired on a few friends to help out. They soon branched out into rugged climbing clothing and early polypropylene clothes. They eventually sold the climbing gear part of the business (now called Black Diamond). Through the 80's and 90's Patagonia grew and now does in the region of $300 millon in sales annually.

The latter half of the book outlines Chouinard's, and by extension, Patagonia's ethical and business philosophies. This part of the book is pretty poorly written and mirrors in more formal language many of the things that he talks about in the first part of the book. The company strives to have a good workplace with childcare and lots of other benefits. Chouinard himself took off large chunks of time from the daily operations of the company to pursue his outdoor activities. Since the 80's Patagonia has donated 1 percent of sales to environmental causes.

As mention, this was not the typical book I would pick up but I mildly enjoyed the first half.

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