You left Patagonia abruptly last year. What happened?
I had a conversation with the Chouinards about the transition in 2019 because, to be honest, I had the feeling that I had achieved everything I wanted to achieve as a manager. I felt like I had learned everything I wanted from Yvon. Many CEOs stay a little too long at the fair. I think it’s good for companies to have new leadership.
When the company made the announcement, it was essentially immediate and no immediate successor was named. It’s a pretty unconventional way of doing business.
Yvon doesn’t do anything the conventional way. It will not follow the optics of public companies. We’d just gotten through the back of everything that was going on with Covid. Business went down. We went through a process of really looking at what the future would be like. In reality, it makes more sense to take the new leadership and move this process forward. It was a mutual decision. At some point the student has to leave the master.
When you left, did you consider other jobs as CEO?
Some amazing opportunities for CEOs came up for me, but they involved retail brands and other companies that I believed were contributing more to our environmental problems than solving them. As I think about what I want to devote myself to over the next decade, I have to answer this question: How do we use business as a force for good, rather than for evil and greed? Create jobs, make people happy that they are helping the world and not hurting it?
The reality is that I feel like I am entering another phase of my life. There are four levels of human life in the Vedic system. The first is the student, the second is the head of household, and the third is retirement. The Sanskrit word for the third is actually Vanaprastha, which means to go to the forest. The idea is that at this stage of your life you will hand over your daily responsibilities to the next generation and become counselors and teachers. I literally live in a rainforest so in my case it’s more than a metaphor.
In retrospect, is there anything you would have done differently in the first few months of the Patagonia pandemic?
I don’t feel like I did anything differently. We were dealing with something that was completely unknown. And I feel like we handled it as best we could. I think Covid taught the world that we are all connected. Our businesses have to be resilient. Our supply chains need to be flexible, innovative and adaptable.