Okay, that title is really bad, isn’t it? I live in the Midwest, so I can’t relate to surfing. Changing the oil–that’s an entirely different matter. If you’re still in the dark, I’m reviewing the Patagonia founder’s book, Let My People Go Surfing.
For several years, I’d look at the book cover of Yvon Chouinard’s book, but ignored it. I thought the book was entirely about building a company’s culture. Nothing wrong with that, but I’d prefer hearing him talk about the culture he built in a podcast interview or a YouTube video instead of reading about it.
Patagonia Was No Lean Startup
If you’ve read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, I can safely say Chouinard did not follow this lean paradigm. Plus, Ries had not been born yet.
Still, it’s a great plot for a movie. Outdoors guy loves climbing. Outdoors guy hates bad equipment. Equipment guy builds some of his own parts and supplies. Friends ask
If only he knew how big and influential this business would become.
Not Your Typical CEO Read
As a reader, I tend to classify the books I finish with similar titles. Let My People Go Surfing is no Shoe Dog, and it’s a far cry from any Jack Welch book.
When I started listening to the book, it had the feel of Wild Company (by the husband-wife team who founded
For Patagonia loyalists, the author tells about his upbringing and how he started his business. We learn the phases the business went through including one bankruptcy.
However, the bulk of the book revolves around Chouinard’s business philosophies such as:
- what materials will be used to make clothing
- how to treat employees
- how to train managers to treat employees
- vendor selection
- charitable contributions from either the top or bottom lines
- the company’s social contract to the environment
There’s just no fluff here. Chouinard does not use his book as a bully pulpit. But he’s not reluctant to share his views on how he wants to use his company to protect the environment. If you are worried about strong political overtones, you have nothing to fear.
Let My People Go Surfing Takeaways
If you are looking for a book where the CEO tells you what to do step by step, this is the wrong book. Instead, be prepared to spend time in introspection during and after you’ve read the book. Here are a few of my takeaways:
- It’s worth writing again, don’t read this book to learn how a CEO should build and run a successful business. Instead, read this book with the view of how a CEO should become a principled-center leader–big difference.
- Read this book to gain ideas on how to make the company you work for to make a difference in the world. I don’t care if your business mows lawns or sells burgers. Your company can make a difference. Chouinard’s business is a means to his ends. Isn’t that the way it should be?
- Growth is more than engineering the supply chain. It’s more about adapting to organic demand. Patagonia wanted to grow and miscalculated along the way. They finally figured out the growth formula.
Let My People Go Change Their Oil
As a small business consultant, I get frustrated when my clients get bent out of shape if their employees are not in the office for the full 8 hours. My message is, “It’s all about results. Forget about butts in seats.” They agree, but then they still get bent out of shape if an employee is only working 39 hours and 45 minutes during the week.
If only they would take a few notes from Chouinard. If you wait to go surfing after work, there may be no good surfing conditions (sorry, I don’t know surfing lingo.) Chouinard wants his staff to go surfing anytime they want to. Just get your work done he says. That’s a breath of fresh air.
As a financial leader, gently push your leadership team for allowing staff to take care of those basic needs that are easier to get done during the week. Do we really want our employees wasting time on a Saturday taking care of mundane chores that could be done 30 minutes here or 20 minutes there during the week? Won’t those same employees go the extra mile working late at night to get their work done?
And here’s the crazy thing–they are already working on weekends anyway.
Yes, let your people go change their oil.
Title Photo Credit: Hosea Georgeson
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