‘Gonia Gets It

Butler Shine shows its respect for Patagonia’s “Let My People Go Surfing” management style.

Patagonia needs to be a case study for all future business leaders, because not only does it make environmental responsibility front and center, it has also built a culture that empowers the individual. It motivates them through the passion of the outdoors and encourages them to seek play within their work. Too often, corporations ruin the potential of their best assets, their people, by turning them to dispassionate drones. At a time when innovation, creativity and sustainability are values that companies need to acquire to survive, Corporate America could learn a lot from Patagonia.

I wrote about Yvon Chouinard a year ago, but frankly I ought to write about him, and his truly remarkable company, more often. Agency peeps are repeatedly called on to “think outside the box” but to do so successfully, visionary thinkers (and doers) have to be at the forefront. It seems to me agency leaders are too busy trying not to lose, to focus on what it means to win big.
Let’s drop in on Chouinard’s world, again:

I’ve been a businessman for almost 50 years. It’s as difficult for me to say those words as it is for someone to admit to being an alcoholic or a lawyer.
I’ve never respected the profession. It’s business that has to take the majority of the blame for being the enemy of nature, for destroying native cultures, for taking from the poor and giving to the rich, and for poisoning the earth with the effluent from its factories. Yet business can produce food, cure disease, control population, employ people, and generally enrich our lives. And it can do these good things and make a profit without losing its soul.
My company, Ventura, California–based Patagonia Inc., maker of technical outdoor apparel and gear, is an ongoing experiment. Founded in 1973, it exists to challenge conventional wisdom and present a new style of responsible enterprise. We believe the accepted model of capitalism, which necessitates endless growth and deserves the blame for the destruction of nature, must be displaced. Patagonia and its thousand employees have the means and the will to prove to the rest of the corporate world that doing the right thing makes for good, financially sound business.

Note, Patagonia’s mission has nothing to do with selling more clothes and gear. They’ve given themselves a much bigger, and ultimately more rewarding, task.
What tasks do we set for ourselves in the ad biz, other than to stay afloat?



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.