Saturday, April 24, 2010

Book Review: Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman

Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman
By Yvon Chouinard

Yvon Choinard is the founder and moving force behind Patagonia. This book is his story. Most people come to think of business books as "how to" books. We learned how to manage in The One Minute Manager. We learned how to evaluate business in, The Balanced Scorecard, and we learned how to emulate success with, In Search of Excellence. We could even learn to Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive. For those interested in the people behind the businesses, there are plenty of biographies. Business people looking for advice from the past are even exploring books such as The Art of War and The Prince.

Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman does not fit neatly into any of those molds. The book is part biography and Choinard's life is fascinating. As a child, he moved from Quebec to Southern California. He spoke little English, and the family had little money. The narrative includes interesting stories about childhood challenges, and in time we learn how he became a climber. Choinard did not really start out to build a business. He started out trying to develop better climbing gear and trying to support his hobby. He sold his equipment out of the trunk of his car!

The book is a story about building a business. Choinard talks about the challenges of growing a business. Some of the challenges were formidable. The equipment his company produced was designed for specific uses by people that knew what the equipment was and how to use it. Even so, that did not prevent product liability lawsuits, and Choinard writes about his legal difficulties. The approach is forthright, and he candidly talks about the challenges he faced and how he went about addressing them. He spends as much time describing decisions that did not work out as he does those that did.

The book is also a story about business philosophy. Choinard and Patagonia operate according to a set of core beliefs. Their customer focused, highest quality, product driven practices are derived from these beliefs. The three general guidelines Patagonia has for promotion demonstrate this.

  1. Our charter is to inspire and education rather than promote.
  2. We would rather earn credibility than buy it. The best resources for us are the word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend or favorable comments in the press
  3. We advertise only as a last resort.
Patagonia demonstrates that it is possible to be successful and to also embrace "social responsibility." The company emphasizes renewable resources and sustainability. It works hard to understand and meet employee needs. For example, Patagonia was one of the first employers to offer employer sponsored day care. One of the reasons for this is that Patagonia also recognizes that its employees are its greatest resource.

If you are looking for some new ideas about business, and you want something other than the usual business book. Check out Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman.

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