SAMPLE ESSAY ON MY TAKE ON THE CURRENT PATAGONIA BUSINESS PRACTICES

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Yvon Chouinard

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Dear Sir,

RE: MY TAKE ON THE CURRENT PATAGONIA BUSINESS PRACTICES

In the book, Let My People Go Surfing, you relate the beliefs on the topics of business, sustainability, and environmental issues through anecdotes from the founding and growth of first Chouinard Equipment then Patagonia Clothing. The deep care and concern for the environment is evident throughout, not only when you describe the climbing adventures, but also when stating how you made decision about sourcing materials and human resource policies. The “Let my people go surfing” policy which allows workers a great deal of control over how and when they take time off is illustrative of the culture which you developed within Patagonia. It is a culture strongly focused on outdoor activity foremost and first of all with the assumption that quality product will follow.
Business leadership and management philosophy that is remarkably similar to that of other leaders who do not necessarily aspire to sustainability. Genuine concern over quality, maintaining a sense of urgency, and management of supplier relationships are topics covered by many including protecting the environment. They do this by having an environmental campaign called “1% for the Planet” as well contributing to “Common Threads, Garment recycling” initiative.

Yet Patagonia has made greater strides than most companies toward sustainability. I believe one answer lies in the subtext of many of the anecdotes in this book. Were making the same types of business decisions that every other small outdoor manufacturer faces, but they were doing it within the context of their love of and concern for the outdoors. Throughout the book you repeatedly emphasizes the desire to staff as many positions as possible with “dirt-bag climbers or kayakers”, often over those with more experience. This policy, while it seems somewhat arbitrary and unfair, does tend to select for those with a strong connection to the outdoors as your belief that this connection is paramount. The skills that a person needs to do the job can be taught, but this connection cannot. By maintaining this culture, Patagonia becomes more capable of making and then supporting the decisions that will lead to sustainability. These people already care about sustainability and are more likely to exceed rather than just follow company policies.

But from an alternative viewpoint Patagonia clothing is so expensive. You certainly tout Patagonia as a company run by thrill-seeking iconoclasts for thrill-seeking iconoclasts. Then you charge prices that only lawyers and corporate executives who want to come off as thrill-seekers can afford. According to me you may be a reluctant businessman, but certainly the choices you uphold are very competent for businesspeople to work out and help build the company. This strong value system serves as a constant check to ensure the organization stays on the right course, regardless of all of the distractions thrown at it. It gave me a completely different look at the green way of living and producing. I’d rather call it a story about value based management and entrepreneurship, than a green postulate or novel shaped to inform about ecological issues.

However you admit that as the company has grown they have been forced to hire people who would not necessarily use Patagonia products. It is unclear how much growth the Patagonia culture can ultimately support before it becomes sufficiently dilute and sustainability becomes more difficult. For instance, I was unaware that Patagonia started out as Chouinard Equipment—you noticed that El Capitan was being damaged by climber’s pitons and decided to make pitons that were removable and sold them to support the climbing and surfing passions and inadvertently created what now is Patagonia– donates 1% of their net sales per annum to non-profit organizations that support and strive for a green environment. Patagonia has also helped to purchase thousands of acres of land throughout the world so that it will forever remain as it should– in its natural state for all to enjoy. Patagonia also supports/allows its employees to actively participate in their own beliefs and will even pay for any “fees” incurred in support of them.  As the founder of the company, breaking down the company into its value components would be appropriate. It would be great, except repetitions witnessed as same details as those at the beginning are seen once again. Better amalgamation of the two parts would also make a great idea.

One of the primary concerns from your point of view is the quality of the products that his company produces. Despite claims that Patagonia does not work to maintain an image, it is clear that the image that Patagonia maintains for itself is that of a manufacturer of outdoor clothing and equipment of unsurpassed quality. This higher quality and the sustainable sourcing of their products require them to charge prices which are far in excess of those charged by their competitors. Chouinard argues that quality goods with source sustainability must be priced accordingly. You are after all paying for the higher quality materials which are produced in less environmentally disruptive manner. Lower priced, lower quality goods are less sustainable, yet their price does not take into account the full cost of their manufacture, use, and ultimate disposal.
Although of undeniably high quality, Patagonia clothing has for many become more a status symbol than statement of quality. Wearing a Patagonia jacket is as much a statement that you appreciate quality as it is that you have a significant level of disposable income. Your referral to several accounts, particularly in Japan, where part of the merchandise has become just such a status symbol. The brand has upheld a high level of moral integrity through its active desire for a lower impact on the Earth, and it is deeply committed to educating its employees, customers, and the general public on the sad shape our home – the Earth – is in.
Despite the overall sustainability of the Patagonia Company manufacturing and product sourcing, there are management policies which suggest an ultimate unsustainability. This is the term used for a state of raised awareness and agitation that is used by falconers to describe their birds when they are ready to hunt. While this is indubitably a useful state to be in when one is about to hunt or carry out some type of imperative task it is an unhealthy state to maintain for a prolonged period of time. According to a fact sheet from the Mayo Clinic, continued high levels of stress can lead to heart disease, depression, memory and concentration issues, and anxiety1. This has so far been balanced by the “Let my people go surfing” culture of the company largely through empowering the employees to take time off as they need it. The tension between these two cultural values is however an area of concern as the company continues to grow. You indeed have managed to keep the company relatively small and able to manage this culture.

If you dwelt further into their undertakings, you will find out that their philosophies are shaped through common values adapted depending on their role, resulting in an inspiring story. Something I wish everyone, organizations as well as individuals took the time to create. Key thing is that their philosophies reinforce each other, making them something rare – an honest and trustworthy company. This strong value system serves as a constant check to ensure the organization stays on the right course, regardless of all of the distractions thrown at it.

It gave me a completely different look at the green way of living and producing. I’d rather call it a story about value based management and entrepreneurship, than a green postulate or novel shaped to inform about ecological issues.  You don’t get to be the size of Patagonia without some very savvy business people running things. While at first it was just Chouinard and his friends, my guess is that not every employee was a ski bum. They had child-care on site so that families can be together. It is amazing that you discovered through observation, experimentation and examination, was the conservative business model. I believe that you sees people like as equals to you in a symbiotic relationship with the earth, while the unborn to be like viruses aimed to destroy his earth through over population.

Yours faithfully

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