Yvon Chouinard: How he grew Patagonia sustainably 

Patagonia had grown by 31% that year. And yet, Yvon Chouinard – its founder – had to fire 20% of his employees. Because he had expected to grow by over 50% in 1991! 

By chasing growth at any cost, Chouinard had lost his way. Things were in disarray. Finances were mismanaged. 

After the dust settled, Chouinard took a dozen senior executives to the mountains of Patagonia in South America – the place he had named his company after. He asked them a simple question: why are we in business?

Retreating to go forward

It’s in the wilderness of Patagonia that Chouinard and his team came up with the new mission for their same named company: 

  • “Build the best product, 
  • cause no unnecessary harm, 
  • use business to inspire and 
  • implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

But their mission crystalized because they went back to their roots. Chouinard was a rock climber who bought second hand tools and taught himself blacksmithing because he wanted to make better climbing tools.

He played a big role in making rock climbing safer. During his very early days, to generate sales, he had printed a one page catalogue. It simply listed the items and their prices. It was very simple, not a lot of poetry and persuasion. But it had a warning: customers should not expect fast delivery during summer. Because that was the climbing season. He would be off climbing.

From the very early days, Chouinard had never chased money. So why was he being greedy now?

Start with the anti-mission statement

It’s very difficult to craft your mission statement and not make it sound blah. The mistake people make is to try to say what they want to do. The easier way is to start by drawing a boundary and saying what you don’t want to do.

By outlining what you don’t support, it becomes easier to articulate your goals. By defining what you are against, you can more clearly see what you stand for.

For Chouinard, it became easy. He didn’t want to chase growth at any cost. He didn’t want to harm the environment. 

Once it was clear for him and his team what they didn’t want to do, their mission statement wrote itself.

The magic of a mission statement that resonates

And then magic happened. Patagonia started attracting people who connected with their mission statement. People who were not driven by money, but by purpose. 

Chouinard again started taking long breaks during the summer. He would go away from May to November, make just a few phone calls, and yet the business would grow. Because the team took over the onus as they were mission driven.

Patagonia grew even when they tried to put in breaks to growth. They clock in more than a billion dollars in sales. But this time, they grew sustainably. 

Action Summary:

  • Craft your anti-mission statement. Then craft your mission statement. What do you oppose?
  • Don’t chase money. Chase a purpose. A strong purpose will attract growth on its own.