Five things to know about Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, who donated his company to protect the environment

By his own admission, Yvon Chouinard did not “Never wanted to be an entrepreneur”. Yet he found himself at the helm of an empire: Patagonia, an outdoor sports apparel company in California that is now worth about $3 billion, according to an estimate of New York Times*. At 83, the businessman announced on Wednesday, September 14 that his company will be donated to a trust responsible for donating its profits to associations for the protection of the environment.

This is not the first time businessman, Committed for a long time to the protection of the environment, surprises in its business methods. Here are five things to know about this well-known eccentric and adventurous boss.

1He is a high level climber and fishing enthusiast

Long before becoming an entrepreneur, Yvon Chouinard developed a passion for climbing. Born in 1938 in the state of Maine to a family of Canadian and French origin, he discovered climbing at the age of 14, when his parents moved to California. Growing up, he developed a reputation as a pioneer by opening routes or making difficult climbs.

Also keen on fly fishing, he confided in 1998 to a reporter, who took his picture for New York Times*, drinking from the rivers where he dipped his line, regardless of the risk of getting sick, to harden himself. He has his father as a role model. He said he remembered the latter pulling his own teeth with his electrician’s pliers while drinking whiskey, thus reasoning that he did not need an expensive dental consultation.

2He started selling sports goods from the trunk of his car

At 19, a member of a falconry club in Southern California and noticing the lack of stability of the equipment available, the young Yvon decided to start making his own climbing equipment. Then he started making money by selling his equipment from the trunk of his car.

His partnership in 1965 with Tom Frost, an American engineer and also a climber, gave birth to a company that, ten years later, in 1973, took the name Patagonia, specializing in outdoor sportswear. Its particularity lies in the choice of very bright colors to dress the equipment, against the current of dark tones that dominated the market at the time. A will by Yvon Chouinard to… boost the morale of climbers. “Spending months in tents in stormy conditions, you become more depressed,” he confessed in 1998, still on New York Times.

3He admits that he became an entrepreneur in spite of himself

Yvon Chouinard does not fit the image of a busy business leader in a suit and tie. He qualifies himself “businessman unwilling” in his work Let My People Go Surfing, confession of an entrepreneur like no other, released in 2005. He has no computer or cell phone. He usually wears jeans, a plaid shirt, or a thick wool sweater. The eccentric leader despite the encouragement of his employees “drop work to surf” if there is an opportunity, he trusted in 2017 to the microphone of the American public radio NPR*. “I don’t care if you work, as long as the job gets done”, he added.

In the end, he is a businessman who does not trust the stock market. “Once listed, even companies with the best intentions choose short-term profit over long-term responsibility and growth,” he wrote in the letter announcing the donation to his company.

4It has a long history of climate action

A penitent businessman, Yvon Chouinard does not neglect the marketing impact that his company can have in terms of ecology. Patagonia has taken many actions, especially donating 1% of its annual sales to environmental groups, and it has been introduced. A catchy slogan, “The Earth is our sole shareholder”, opened the letter on September 14. A strong desire to “changing the business world”.

In 1994, the company announced it would abandon all use of cotton grown with pesticides. At the very beginning of his business, Yvon Chouinard made and promoted aluminum jammers and carabiners to replace the piton that damaged the rock, thus contributing to the development of “clean climbing”, leaving the route without stop after climbing.

5He engaged in a showdown with Donald Trump

Yvon Chouinard repeatedly opposed the policy of the former president of the United States. In 2017, along with other US economic heavyweights, including the like-minded company The North Face, Patagonia signed a letter of opposition to Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the agreement on Paris climate. In the same year, Yvon Chouinard announced that he would sue the head of state after the latter reduced the size of two protected natural areas in the state of Utah. A more recent act on the part of a private company about an incumbent president.

* Links followed by an asterisk are in English.

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