You left Patagonia abruptly last year. What happened?
I had been having a conversation with the Chouinards in 2019 about transitioning out because, honestly, I felt like I had accomplished everything that I wanted to accomplish as a leader. I felt like I had learned everything that I wanted to from Yvon. A lot of C.E.O.s 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 effective immediately, and there was no immediate successor named. That’s pretty unconventional corporate governance.
Yvon doesn’t do anything in a conventional manner. He’s not going to follow the optics of public companies. We had just gotten through the hump of everything that was going on with Covid. The business declined. We were going through a process of really looking at what the future would look like. And the reality is it made more sense to have the new leadership lead, and take forward that process. That was a mutual decision. At some point, the student has to leave the master.
When you left, did you consider other C.E.O. jobs?
Some amazing C.E.O. opportunities came to me, but they were in retail brands and other companies that I felt like were more contributing to our environmental problems and not solving them. When I think of what I want to devote myself to in the next decade, it comes to answering this question: How do we use business as a force for good, instead of evil and greed? To create jobs, to give people satisfaction that they’re helping the world, and not hurting it?
The reality is I feel like I’m just entering a different stage in my life. In the Vedic system, there are four stages of human life. The first is the student, the second is the householder and the third is retirement. The Sanskrit word for the third is actually vanaprastha, which means going into the forest. The idea is that during this stage of your life, you hand over your day-to-day responsibilities to the next generation and become an adviser and a teacher. I’m literally living in a rainforest, so it’s more than a metaphor in my case.
With the benefit of hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently at Patagonia during the early months of the pandemic?
I don’t feel like I would’ve done anything differently. We were dealing with something that was totally unknown. And I feel like we dealt with it the best way we possibly could. I think Covid taught the world we’re kind of all interconnected. Our businesses have to be resilient. Our supply chains have to be flexible and innovative and adaptable.