In this episode, Jim and Jan welcome Vincent Stanley, Co-Author of The Responsible Company, visiting Fellow at the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, and Director of Philosophy / Chief Storyteller at Patagonia. Vincent shares the evolution of both product design and company leadership since his start at Patagonia in 1973, and the ways they integrate new employees with existing culture. He speaks to what makes Patagonia’s story unique and authentic, the burdens of being responsible, and offers advice to those looking to be change agents and storytellers within their own community. Vincent believes that one of the most important responsibilities we have is the right to be responsible.
[2:39] Vincent has been at Patagonia on and off since 1973, and is the nephew of the founder, Yvon Chouinard. He and his uncle co-wrote The Responsible Company with two different yet powerful intentions. Yvon wanted to create something practical for people who are motivated to see how Patagonia operated as a business over the past several decades. Vincent’s motivation was to come to an understanding the core culture. These responsibilities encompassed much of what we saw was important in the early 1960’s.
[3:35] Vincent discusses how people are yearning for full agency throughout their day. He discusses the traditional 1960’s corporate model where businesses focused both on the financial health and bottom line of a company, and also the strong commitment to honor the employees, customers and community of which they serve. Patagonia took this and added in environment, as this area has been compromised immensely by population and economy growth over the past several decades.
[6:52] When Vincent started work in the 1970’s, the population was now 3.8 Billion. It is now doubled, with economic activity up 500%. This has put tremendous pressure on economic and social systems, so Patagonia aims to do their part to stay responsible to traditional stakeholders, and our original CEO, nature.
[7:11] Leadership at the top is important, but there must also be a strong middle management with a sense of agency built into everyone’s role. The more coworkers that feel a kinship and responsibility to help others in the company, the easier it is to add new people while helping current ones expand their skills.
[11:35] Vincent’s discusses what the title of Chief Storyteller means to him, and Patagonia as a company. He helped write some of the early catalogs and business philosophies, so he pulls from the foundation of their core values and creates the story to reflect their authentic meaning in today’s world. Vincent feels as though Patagonia’s success in its ability to be a model for other companies, is that their stories are based in reality and not to create spin. Patagonia’s story is complex, however it’s important for the story to consistently build credibility and trust with employees, customers and suppliers.
[13:23] There are many fibers woven into Patagonia’s story. One being their position as an outdoor gear company, with products designed for technical performance. Then, the origin story of the company coming out of climbing equipment, and their community activism; donating 1% of sales to environmental causes; and use of catalogs and websites to educate the general public.
[14:57] Vincent shares a story on when they changed to organic cotton, and how they took steps that entailed a financial risk in order to do the “right thing”. It was a huge move, as they broke their connection to the global supply chain. They took providing an explanation to everyone involved very seriously, and bussed 40 people in at a time from all different departments to cotton fields. Here they could see the difference between conventional cotton and organic cotton, and now the reason for the change went from abstract to tangible. They invested both time and money in explaining why the change, and it paid off in dividends.
[20:20] One of Vincent’s key tenets of success is maintaining the impulse towards improvement. Two of the dirtiest industries are apparel and agriculture, and he sees this as an opportunity to make a difference.
[22:47] Many associate Patagonia as a super responsible brand, but Jim and Jan note that how well their gear actually performs and holds up while used for exactly what it was meant to do. Patagonia also makes a lot gear for the Military.
[25:55] Vincent describes their different environmental campaigns, and how they started small in the 1980’s by giving 1% to organizations that were respected locally but not getting a lot of coverage. He talks about the need to restore agricultural soil to health, and what Patagonia is doing about it.
[35:21] There is a strong sense of culture and permission to be active at Patagonia. The employees are outdoor enthusiasts and it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for a group to take a hike or bike ride in the middle of their work day.
[38:28] Vincent’s advice is to give what you can from the beginning, and start right away, no matter how small the amount. It’s about creating a chain of positive effects, and even a small gesture of service can ripple out and affect others. Vincent feels in business there is sometimes too much of a focus on the politics, rather than looking inward to see what can do to serve.
[41:43] Vincent’s future focus is based on how they can work with other parts in the world to create more change globally, and also in their own community on a regional basis.
How to contact Vincent:
- “The most important right we have, is the right to be responsible.” – Gerald Amos
- “Our company has a responsibility to traditional stakeholders, and nature as well.”
- “We are careful to use our stories to express the core values of our company.”
- “Don’t craft your story to imitate the competitor who is 20% bigger than you. Every business is different.”
- “It is important to have an impulse towards improvement.”
- “Start giving from the first day.”
- “Whatever your business is should solve a problem, but it should also address environmental and social problems at the same time.”
- Every time you get one action that addresses 3 or 4 problems, you are hitting the bullseye and creating real change.
The responsible company