[email protected] 2 - Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia

What do you get when you combine a rock climber, environmentalist, surfer, kayaker, and falconer with an outdoor industry billionaire businessman?  This week's Honorary Groove Enhancer: Yvon Chouinard, the Founder of Patagonia, one of the most respected brands on the Planet!

As many great stories start with hardship, Yvon’s is no different. When he was 7 years old, his family moved from Maine to California to help provide relief for his father’s asthma.  The transition was particularly painful for Yvon as he grew up speaking French and not English. He was the smallest kid in the class and had to constantly defend himself because he had a “girl’s name.”

The remaining years of his early education provided little relief until as a 15-year-old he became obsessed with falconry.  Seriously. Falconry is an art. It requires long hours, constant devotion, finesse, subtlety and skill. These skills would help form the man he would become as an avid outdoorsman with a fierce dedication to the natural world around us.

His unorthodox childhood helped to lay the foundation of what is today one of the most unorthodox companies in the world.  Patagonia. Yvon Chouinard set out to build an “un-company” — one whose principal concern was taking care of employees, customers, and, above all else, the planet. An un-company that just so happens to do about $1 billion in sales each year and has 3,000 employees around the world.

However, none of this is reason enough for Yvon to be selected as this issue’s Honorary Groove Enhancer.  For that, we need to look beyond the colorful, iconic fleeces, hoodies, backpacks and gear to see what a company that is truly committed to creating a great place to work actually looks like!  It’s one thing to say “We value our team.” It’s another thing entirely to live it through the policies and the actions of the leadership.  

I mentioned in our last [email protected] blog post that while I was the Managing Partner of Zingerman’s Deli, we were named “The Coolest Small Company in America.” by INC magazine.  A tremendous honor, indeed. Patagonia on the other hand has been recognized as “The Coolest Company on the Planet!” by Fortune Magazine, and many others.  A recognition that in my mind is next to impossible to argue against.

Of course, I care about the planet and about creating an inspiring brand with high-quality products, but what really gets me going is when a company ceases to become a top-down bureaucracy and embraces its responsibility to treat the team as a family, with Love! It also means putting your money where your mouth is.

Here are just a few of the examples of exactly how Yvon and the team at Patagonia manage to do just that:  

After you’ve been at the company for one year, you can take up to two months off, with pay, to volunteer with an environmental organization or project. Every year about 150 employees travel around the world to literally, dig in, get their hands dirty and help the environment.

They also have a radical “Bail Policy” that encourages employees to actively support the planet.  If they get put in jail, Patagonia will cover their bail! Yep. Any employee who gets arrested for peacefully protesting for the environment will have bail paid for themselves and their spouse by Patagonia. “We let them be the humans we hired!” 

But for me, as a father of 4 boys, the most inspiring benefit and one that I believe provides a clear picture of the real heart of Yvon and Co. is their approach to .  . . Child Care! Patagonia has 3 on-site childcare centers.

They have offered child care since 1983!

The service is subsidized but not free, which I actually believe is very smart, but check this out: the centers have bilingual programs and teachers who are trained in child development. 

The result?

Nearly 100% of new moms return to work at Patagonia. That’s ridiculous! 

And strategic.

With a 100-year business plan, there is no better way to show love for your team and ensure the ultimate succession planning than to begin at 8 weeks old!

Thank you Yvon for showing the world there is a powerful way to lead business with love while creating a shared adventure with your team!  You are one of a kind and an inspiration for all the other Groove Enhancers around the world!

Until next time: 

Who would you nominate as the next Honorary Groove Enhancer?  From the founder of a large publicly traded airline like Herb Kelleher to Yvon Chouinard discussed here, Groove Enhancers are all around us, but we need more!  Who do you know personally that should be included on our weekly spotlight? 

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