NO. 6 I PATAG­O­NIA MAKES A STAND

Fast Company - - Contents - By Jeff Beer

By ex­tend­ing its en­vi­ron­men­tal mis­sion—in­clud­ing an im­pas­sioned de­fense of Trump-threat­ened na­tional parks—patag­o­nia has bol­stered its bond with cus­tomers.

Rose Mar­cario strug­gled to sleep. It was Novem­ber 9, 2016, just hours af­ter Don­ald Trump had been elected pres­i­dent, and the CEO of Patag­o­nia was wor­ried about how his White House as­cent might dis­rupt not only her com­pany’s busi­ness but the planet’s fu­ture. From the bed­room of her Ven­tura, Cal­i­for­nia, home, she ag­o­nized over Trump’s cam­paign pledges—to bring back coal, dis­man­tle pub­lic land pro­tec­tions, and un­wind ef­forts to com­bat cli­mate change—which rep­re­sented ev­ery­thing Patag­o­nia, a stal­wart de­fender of en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, had long fought against. “It was dis­ap­point­ing on so many lev­els,” re­calls Mar­cario, who felt “a real threat” that all the com­pany stood for was “on the line.” By 4 a.m., she had had enough. The 52-year-old prac­tic­ing Bud­dhist got out of bed to med­i­tate. This was go­ing to be a long one. Mar­cario cen­tered her­self on Patag­o­nia’s 45-year his­tory. While some CEOS were sali­vat­ing at the prospect of a more lais­sez­faire reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment, Mar­cario in­tu­ited that this was the mo­ment to em­brace Patag­o­nia’s core DNA—“TO dou­ble down on our ac­tivism.” This wasn’t an end, Mar­cario thought, but a be­gin­ning. She moved to her lap­top and be­gan punch­ing out a com­pany-wide email. It was more than her ver­sion of “Keep calm and carry on.” In her note, she stressed the ur­gency “to de­fend wilder­ness, to de­fend air, soil, and wa­ter.” She wanted to “gal­va­nize” the Patag­o­nia com­mu­nity around th­ese is­sues, she says, re­mind­ing her peo­ple that they must “con­tinue to [use] their voice” and “deepen our re­solve to pro­tect what we love.” She hit SEND around 9:30 a.m., then drove to the of­fice. She bumped into Yvon Chouinard in the park­ing lot. Chouinard, the Patag­o­nia founder and chair­man fa­mous for mak­ing breath­tak­ing first as­cents on Fitz Roy and El Cap­i­tan in the 1960s be­fore build­ing the com­pany into a global brand, felt the same. If any­thing, he wanted Mar­cario to push the com­pany fur­ther. “Keep go­ing,” Chouinard ex­horted her. “Let’s get ready to fight.” It was just what she’d hoped to hear. Since then, Patag­o­nia has only in­ten­si­fied its ef­forts. In­cited by Trump’s agenda, the com­pany has upped its com­mit­ment to en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivism, mak­ing an un­prece­dented bet on cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity. This has served not only to en­er­gize

prod­uct in­no­va­tion and mar­ket­ing but to grow the com­pany’s brand aware­ness and sales. Mar­cario has over­seen a qua­dru­pling of Patag­o­nia’s rev­enue in her decade-long ten­ure with the com­pany, pur­su­ing in­vest­ments in sus­tain­able de­sign and man­u­fac­tur­ing and in star­tups al­lied with Patag­o­nia’s mis­sion. The com­pany has built a right­eous fly­wheel, like an Ama­zon for do-good­ers:

The more it in­vests in its be­liefs and its prod­ucts, the bet­ter Patag­o­nia per­forms, de­vel­ops cre­ative so­lu­tions, and maps out a blue­print for other busi­nesses, big and small, to fol­low. “Do­ing good work for the planet,” Mar­cario says, “cre­ates new mar­kets and makes [us] more money.” That’s the Patag­o­nia way.

Mar­cario’s suc­cess serves as a re­but­tal to com­pa­nies that re­strict so­ci­etal im­pact to a se­cond- or third-tier pri­or­ity in the cor­po­rate world. “This isn’t the time to be lazy, to be re­served, to be com­plicit, to be quiet,” she says. “We’re liv­ing in a time when it’s so im­por­tant for busi­ness to drive this new econ­omy, this new view, this as­pi­ra­tional fu­ture of busi­ness as a force for good.”

Patag­o­nia’s cor­po­rate cam­pus in Ven­tura feels more like a beach town com­mu­nity col­lege than home to one of the world’s most in­flu­en­tial ap­parel brands. So­lar pan­els dot the park­ing lot, where surf­boards and wet suits are splayed atop Priuses and beat-up trucks. The orig­i­nal tin shed where Chouinard first pounded out climb­ing pitons to sell still sits steps away on its orig­i­nal site, and ac­cents the rus­tic vibe you’d ex­pect from a com­pany whose founder au­thored a book ti­tled Let My Peo­ple Go Surf­ing.

On a sunny morn­ing last Novem­ber, I make my way to the se­cond floor of the com­pany’s main build­ing, where Mar­cario works in an open ex­ec­u­tive of­fice. Dressed in jeans and a black Patag­o­nia vest over a plaid shirt, with prayer beads around her wrist, she greets me at her desk, which is draped in a gi­ant yel­low flag em­bla­zoned with RE­SIST in black let­ters. Hang­ing just out­side the window be­hind her, an Amer­i­can flag gen­tly rip­ples in the Pa­cific breeze.

It’s been al­most ex­actly a year since Mar­cario wrote that post-elec­tion let­ter, and her in­ten­sity still burns. Her Zen man­ner is bal­anced with a re­fresh­ing, no-bull­shit blunt­ness. When­ever Trump’s name comes up, she shakes her head in frus­tra­tion. She has lit­tle pa­tience for lead­ers who she feels act out of self-in­ter­est. Most CEOS? “So, so phony,” she says. Short­sighted in­vestors? “De­stroy­ing the coun­try.” The ti­tans of Sil­i­con Val­ley? “Pa­thetic. I couldn’t face my­self ev­ery day if I gave the kind of wee­nie an­swers they’ve been giv­ing on th­ese is­sues. All th­ese guys [at Face­book, Twit­ter, and Google] are rich. Why don’t they just do what’s right?”

When I ask about her own lead­er­ship style, Mar­cario says she strives to em­brace risk by act­ing “quickly and de­ci­sively,” but not by sac­ri­fic­ing the fu­ture, es­chew­ing what she calls the busi­ness world’s “sui­ci­dal” ad­dic­tion to quar­terly earn­ings. Mar­ket­ing VP Cory Bay­ers tells me that when em­ploy­ees pro­posed that the com­pany give away all of its 2016 Black Fri­day sales to grass­roots en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions, Mar­cario green-lighted the plan within 30 min­utes via text mes­sage. (The com­pany raised $10 mil­lion and signed up 24,000 new cus­tomers that day.) Lorna Davis, CEO of the multi­bil­lion-dol­lar or­ganic CPG con­glom­er­ate Danonewave, who counts Mar­cario as a close ad­viser, says she pushes those around her to work on a “30-year frame­work,” to un­der­stand the long-range con­se­quences of busi­ness de­ci­sions, rather than merely what will move the nee­dle next month or next year. “There isn’t too much of that hap­pen­ing in the U.S. right now,” Davis says.

Mar­cario didn’t al­ways seem des­tined to be­come a cor­po­rate rebel. When she was 10,

her parents split up, and “we went from hav­ing a nice, mid­dle-class life to be­ing on wel­fare and food stamps,” she says, adding that she de­vel­oped an “un­der­ly­ing neu­ro­sis” in the en­su­ing years to never end up in her mom’s dire fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion. “I was al­ways afraid I wouldn’t have enough money.” She stud­ied fi­nance in col­lege, earned her MBA at Cal State in L.A., and by her early thir­ties was head­ing up M&A at a West Coast in­vest­ment firm. She be­came CFO of Gen­eral Magic, the Ap­ple spin-off that birthed such Val­ley stars as An­droid cre­ator Andy Rubin and Nest founder Tony Fadell, and then moved into pri­vate eq­uity.

But Mar­cario found this string of achieve­ments un­ful­fill­ing. Her ca­reer and per­sonal life weren’t aligned. Af­ter prof­it­ing from the fi­nan­cial sys­tem, she says she burned out and faced “a mo­ment of reck­on­ing.” In 2006, she quit, and spent part of the next two years trav­el­ing in In­dia and Nepal. “I went through a kind of per­sonal trans­for­ma­tion,” she says. “Study­ing Bud­dhism, just fig­ur­ing out who I was as a per­son . . . . If you don’t take that to your work and the world, then I don’t think that trans­for­ma­tion is com­plete.”

At one point, Mar­cario even con­sid­ered be­com­ing a Bud­dhist nun, but a chance en­counter brought her back to the busi­ness world. An old friend who worked at Patag­o­nia told her the com­pany was seek­ing a new CFO and sug­gested she speak with Chouinard. An avid ad­ven­turer her­self who loves kayak­ing in Big Sur and hik­ing in Joshua Tree, Mar­cario only knew him by rep­u­ta­tion as a moun­tain climber who, in her words, never “sold out.” (As Chouinard tells me, “I couldn’t give a shit about how much money we make.”) She ad­mits that she was skep­ti­cal of whether the com­pany would live up to its hype, but found in Chouinard an ex­ec­u­tive men­tor and a kin­dred spirit.

Join­ing Patag­o­nia in 2008, Mar­cario worked quickly to re­view sup­ply chains and stream­line pro­duc­tion, help­ing the com­pany elim­i­nate waste and ex­cess pack­ag­ing. She also helped shep­herd new tech­nolo­gies, work­ing with sup­plier Pri­maloft to de­velop a re­cy­cled in­su­la­tion, for in­stance, which ul­ti­mately trans­formed not just Patag­o­nia’s prod­ucts but lines from Adi­das, Nike, Helly Hansen, and the North Face. In 2014, Chouinard el­e­vated her to CEO. Since then, by fund­ing small, en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­si­ble ven­tures, Patag­o­nia has helped pro­duce ma­jor strides in ma­te­ri­als sci­ence as well as re­gen­er­a­tive agri­cul­ture, lead­ing to a sur­pris­ing foray into sell­ing food un­der the ban­ner of Patag­o­nia Pro­vi­sions. By fo­cus­ing on re­duc­ing waste and ex­tend­ing the life of its gear, the com­pany now has a bloom­ing new mar­ket for used goods. By en­gag­ing cus­tomers in its fight for a health­ier planet, Patag­o­nia boosts its power. Mar­cario tells me her spir­i­tual jour­ney from her pre-patag­o­nia ca­reer and life now feels com­plete.

“My whole self is here,” she says. “My val­ues, my pas­sion, my sense of ur­gency.”

On the out­skirts of Reno, Ne­vada, four dozen tech­ni­cians lean over sew­ing machines, stitch­ing away in­side the largest gar­ment-re­pair fa­cil­ity in the United States. Racks of vin­tage Snap-t fleeces and Fitz Roy down parkas await their at­ten­tion, a rainbow of retro pas­tels and neons. This re­pair cen­ter re­flects a sig­nif­i­cant leap for­ward from the com­pany’s first ma­jor move into what’s now cheek­ily known as recom­merce. In 2011, Patag­o­nia pur­chased a full-page ad in The New York Times, which fea­tured a sim­ple shot of a fleece un­der the head­line “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” The ad en­cour­aged cus­tomers to re­pair and re­use as much of their cloth­ing as pos­si­ble, and Patag­o­nia cre­ated a mar­ket with ebay for cus­tomers to trade items they no longer needed. The Com­mon Threads Ini­tia­tive, as the com­pany then called it, re­paired more than 30,000 items in 18 months. Iron­i­cally, the more Patag­o­nia cam­paigned on this anti-con­sumerist mes­sage, the more peo­ple bought its prod­ucts. Sales in­creased about 30% dur­ing 2012, to $540 mil­lion.

The next year, Com­mon Threads spawned a project dubbed Worn Wear, which be­gan ac­cept­ing used mer­chan­dise in flag­ship stores, from Austin to Chicago to Seat­tle. Af­ter ac­cu­mu­lat­ing enough gear, Mar­cario es­tab­lished a ded­i­cated Worn Wear sec­tion within

“Earn­ings per share is a like a chain around the neck of the coun­try,” says Mar­cario, who ad­vo­cates for a health­ier form of cap­i­tal­ism that also takes into ac­count peo­ple and the planet.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.