Patagonia | A Role Model That’s Built to Last


patagonia logo


If you’re a Jim Collins’ fan, maybe you got the “built to last” reference.  He’s featured in the April 2009 issue of Inc. magazine, and as always, has some great insights.  Like his observation that about every 20-30 years there is a major development in the evolution of business that we become aware of only in retrospect.

Here’s his major observations on the last 100 years or so–

  1. Around the turn of the last century, business corporations emerge as the building block of modern society.  Sounds obvious enough, right?  Yes– but how many people living in that moment recognized the revolution that was unfolding right in front of them?
  2. From the 1920s to ’40s, management emerged as the fundamental function and discipline in society. We were becoming a society in which management would be one of the central, important professions– like practicing medicine or law.
  3. After WWII comes another big development: work can be broken down into segments and reassembled in ways dramatically increasing both performance and humanity.
  4. During the 1980s, the idea of the entrepreneur shifts from “those crazy, creative people” to a profession, as people start to realize that it’s not about temperament or personality, but about action. We embrace the idea that entrepreneurship is actually a systematic, replicable process.



By this point you’re no doubt wondering– what does any of this have to do with Patagonia, you nerd?

Well, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard is cited as one of the original ’80s revolutionary entrepreneurs.  Yeah, he wanted to make incredible products, but those products would be part of a bigger, greater vision– creating a role model for people who wanted to build a sustainable and responsible organization. A noble and admirable goal indeed. Go to their website and check out Footprint Chronicles.  It’s an interactive mini-site that allows you to track the impact of specific Patagonia products on the environment and humanity– from design to delivery.  It’s this type of initiative and transparency that inspires others toward more responsible thinking and thoughtful actions.


patagonia founder history

How it all got started–

Chouinard built a small shop in his parents’ backyard in Burbank. Most of his tools were portable, so he could load up his car and travel the California coast from Big Sur to San Diego, surfing. After a session, he would haul his anvil down to the beach and cut out angle pitons with a cold chisel and hammer before moving on.

For the next few years, Chouinard forged pitons during the winter months, spent April to July on the walls of Yosemite, then headed out of the heat of summer for the high mountains of Wyoming, Canada, or the Alps, and then back to Yosemite in the fall until the snow fell in November. He supported himself selling gear from the back of his car. The profits were slim, though. For weeks at a time, he’d live on fifty cents to a dollar a day. Before leaving for the Rockies one summer he bought two cases of dented, canned cat tuna from a damaged-can outlet in San Francisco. This food supply was supplemented by oatmeal, potatoes, and poached ground squirrel and porcupines.

In Yosemite, Chouinard and his friends were called the Valley Cong. They had to hide out from the rangers in the boulders above Camp 4 after they overstayed the 2-week camping limit. They took pride in the fact that climbing rocks and icefalls had no economic value, that they were rebels. Their heroes were Muir, Thoreau, Emerson, Gaston Rebuffat, Ricardo Cassin, and Herman Buhl.


(Left) Circa 1980s-1990s– Yvon Chouinard Resting on the Mooses Tooth, Alaska — Image by © Galen Rowell/CORBIS

(Right) Circa 1994, near Telluride, Colorado, Yvon Chouinard Rock Climbing — Image by © Galen Rowell/CORBIS


Man, I need an adventure– or maybe a little craft time.



6 thoughts on “Patagonia | A Role Model That’s Built to Last

  1. Pingback: Pages tagged "admirable"

  2. Thanks for the post on Patagonia – read Let My People Go Surfing – it’s a great chronicle of their business, their entrepreneurial spirit/ethos…

  3. Pingback: Patagonia, Role Model « all plaidout

  4. “Let my People Go Surfing” is definitely one of my favorite book. In addition, Patagonia is a great brand…an outstanding company…most important an admirable executive team. For sure, it’s a company that I would like to be part-of. Who doesn’t want to work for a company that makes you feel proud!!!

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