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Let My People Go Surfing - The Education of a Reluctant Businessman (A Review)

Updated on April 23, 2015

Beautiful Patagonia

A Moving Memoir, Great Business Book, & A Blueprint for Hope!

"Every time we do the right thing by the environment, we increase our profits signficantly. — Yvon Chouinard

Let My People Go Surfing is a moving autobiography, agreat business book, and uplifting blueprint for hope! I first heard about Yvon Chouinard over thirty years ago, when I was working in the Canadian Rockies.

Back then, as well as being a hot California rock climber, Chouinard forged climbing hardware for friends and himself. Reluctantly, he became the owner of Chouinard Equipment, the largest supplier of climbing hardware in the U.S. Over time, and with the addition of its famous clothing line, the company morphed into Patagonia.

As he became successful, Chouinard also became a dedicated environmentalist. He strived to design and create hardware, gear, and clothing that could withstand the rigors of outdoor adventure, and do as little damage to the Earth as possible.

Today, Patagonia is a leading edge company, demonstrating a successful sustainable business approach. Chouinard is a co-founder of 1% for the Planet (One Percent for the Planet), an alliance of companies that contribute one percent (or more) of their pre-tax earnings to approved environmental groups and projects.

Let My People Go Surfing is partly Chouinard's autobiography. It is partly his articulation of a successful business approach. It is largely a loose, but effective blueprint for authentic success—in life, as well as business.

Best of all, it is gripping, engaging read for those interested in saving the Earth, protecting the outdoors, and creating the life you long for while you're at it!

Earth First; Profits Second

Chouinard and Patagonia's story can be summed up by a statement I heard him make at the Banff International Book And Film Festival. When asked if making environmentally friendly products wasn't hurting his bottom line, he said, "No! Every time we do the right thing, we increase our profits significantly."

In the book, as well as recounting his climbing history, and how he gradually morphed into a reluctant businessman, Chouinard also describes his philosophy of business. On product design: "make the best product, cause no unnecessary harm." He says his production approach is to "re-create on an industrial scale the hand-knitters devotion to quality and hr ability to keep in mind all the criteria for her final product."

About the company's image, he says, "the only way to sustain an image is to live up to it. Our image is a direct reflection of who we are and what we believe in." As a product-driven company he says, "the product comes first and the company exists to create and support our products."

At Patagonia financial and environmental philosophy interact, but Chouinard is clear about what comes first. "Fundamentally," he says, "businesses are responsible to their resource bases. Without a healthy environment, there are no shareholders, no employees, no customers and no business."

At the heart of Patagonia's philosophy is its "let my people go surfing" flex-time approach. "If you care about having a company where employees treat work as play and regard themselves as the ultimate customers for the products, they produce," says Chouinard, "then you have to be careful whom you hire, treat them right and train them to treat other people right. Otherwise you may come to work one day and find it isn't a place you want to be anymore."

The flex-time approach is just one way Patagonia manages highly independent-minded employees that might be considered unmanageable at many other companies. Democracy rules. Where possible, decisions are made by consensus. No one has a private office. And if the surf's up, well… what are you gonna do?

Yvon Chouinard: Return to the Outdoors

Philosophy of Business — And Life!

What Patagonia does have is big hairy, audacious goals -- visionary goals to do well by doing good—for customers, employees, and the environment. Managers have short-term visions, embedded within that visionary framework. Leadership is largely by example.

Permeating everything at Patagonia is a concern for the environment, and for the future of the Earth. Although pessimistic about the fate of the planet, Chouinard takes a leading role in pointing out the power of business to bring about sustainable change.

"At Patagonia," he says,' the protection and preservation of the natural environment aren't just something we do after hours or when we finish our regular work; they're the reason we're in business." Chouinard aspires to "use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

Summing up his philosophy, he says:

1. Live an examined life.

2. Clean up your own act.

3. Do our penance.

4. Support civil democracy, and

5. Influence other companies.

He echoes the sentiments of David Brower, founder of The Sierra Club, who said: "There's no business to done on a dead planet." He hopes all business people will take that to heart, and act on it.

Chouinard's story shows that you don't have to scrap your values and stop having fun to be a successful entrepreneur. Today, Patagonia earns over $250 million a year, and is one of the most respected, and environmentally responsible companies on Earth.

Chouinard spends most of his time now promoting 1% for the Planet, and enjoying the many wild areas of the planet that he's had a had in saving, such as his beloved Patagonia region, high in the Chilean Andes.


Bruce is a personal and professional life coach, offering services to clients on 6 continents.

For more of Bruce Elkin's writing, please visit his profile on HubPages.

Yvon Chouinard: 1% for the Planet


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    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      Nice one!

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Me, too. On a couch, with a beer, and some popcorn!

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      I'm definitely the fair-weather surfing type (-:


    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Where I live (in Victoria, BC, Canada) it's been cold (near freezing) but the windsurfers and kite surfers have been out in force, trying to catch the big winds. I wonder if there are any companies in this city that give their employees time off to go surfing? Or in Cornwall?

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      Couldn't agree more - I love surfing. (Not now, the sea has frozen over in parts of Cornwall's habours, and that's definitely a bit nippy for my taste!)