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Business Tips From Patagonia's CEO

It's been a big year for Patagonia, as it celebrated a 50th anniversary and legally restructured to commit all profits to environmental causes. What can be learned from the company's unconventional approach to capitalism? CEO Ryan Gellert reflects on Patagonia’s ongoing legacy, how they measure success (it’s not what you would think), and the career advice that’s guided him.

  • September 7th 2023

Know Your True North

One piece of advice that has stuck with Gellert throughout his career? “Business should be willing to rethink everything about itself every single day, except for its reason for being," he says.

What’s important to you? What are your values? And ultimately, what are you uniquely qualified to impact? These are questions Gellert believes all companies should be able to answer, and having those answers is especially important when it comes to taking a stand on issues.

Business Unusual, Not Business as Usual

“There is no business to be done on a dead planet,” Gellert says. “For people in companies that think in quarters, I don’t know how to wean you off that drug. But if you are thinking in decades, it seems to me it’s radically obvious the changes we need to make.”

For Patagonia, that meant restructuring the company so that more of its profits could directly cashflow the environment. "We have got to reform capitalism if we want any chance of a livable planet," urges Gellert, who believes that businesses should do more than sell products.

Watch writer and comedian Baratunde Thurston interview Gellert about the process behind Patagonia's major restructuring:

Be Radically Honest

“Business leaders. You can always count on them to do the right thing as soon as they’ve exhausted every other option,” Gellert jokes.

When you’ve missed the mark — whether it’s a product you design, decisions you make, positions you take, or otherwise — own up to it, advises Gellert. This goes back to having a true north that guides your business. It's easier to take ownership of missteps when you deeply know the vision and values of your organization.

Rethink How You Measure Success

Although there are plenty of metric-intensive yardsticks that Patagonia uses, it's actually a Buddhist concept championed by founder Yvon Chouinard that defines how they think about success. That, and some very vocal employee focus groups.

Watch Gellert explain:

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How Patagonia Measures Success

Watch the Full Session

In Conversation with Patagonia's CEO

  • Ryan Gellert
  • Baratunde Thurston

By Maya Kobe-Rundio, Associate Digital Editor, Aspen Ideas

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