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

Let My People Go Surfing Book Cover
Book (with additional video)
Yvon Chouinard
Recommended by: Alex Kovac, Assistant District Supervisor, Department of Natural Resources
Additional Video
Title: Yvon Chouinard: Let My People Go Surfing
Date: October 16, 2013

1) What is your suggestion about?

Let My People Go Surfing was written by Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, Inc. Chouinard derived the title from the company’s policy that allows employees to use flextime in order to pursue their hobbies and passions (e.g., surfing).

The book chronicles the development of the company from a small, rock-climbing-gear manufacturer to a global producer of outdoor gear and apparel. It also outlines Chouinard’s reluctance to become a “businessman,” and illustrates his unconventional and passionate approach to building a company that values its employees and goes to great lengths to produce products in an environmentally friendly manner. 

2) Why did you choose it?

Chouinard proves that making long-term investments in your employees and customers produces positive results. Patagonia is consistently ranked as one of the top places to work and it is known for the durability of its products and great customer service. It is an example of how focusing solely on the financial bottom line as it relates to employees benefits and product quality can sometimes miss the target.

3) What else do you want to tell us about it?

The book was recommended to me for its insights into workplace culture and dynamics, and it did not disappoint.

From ant colonies to Navy SEAL teams, Chouinard uses an eclectic mix of examples to convey group dynamics. He outlines the importance of people not only knowing their individual job but also the jobs of their other team members. For groups to function, it is critical that others are able to step in for colleagues if a part of the process is interrupted. The company also prides itself on diversity in its workforce and does its best to garner opinions from as many viewpoints as possible.

Chouinard highlights the need to lead by example. Management pays for its meals in the company cafeteria, there are no designated parking spaces (save fuel-efficient vehicles), and management is visible and accessible.

Widely known for its low turnover, Patagonia proves that investing in employees saves money in the long run when compared to the costs involved in hiring and training new employees. Patagonia was a pioneer in recognizing the importance of parental leave for new parents and went a step further to offer onsite day care for their employees. The company’s flextime policy gives employees the freedom to use time when it is convenient and beneficial to them (e.g., in the case of a California based company with outdoor-minded employees, when the waves are best for surfing). This is allowed with the understanding that employees still complete their work.

The book also outlines the need for creating a mission that means something and provides clear direction as to what are the goals of the company. Chouinard has strong opinions on the environment and those feelings are expressed throughout the book. The book describes the need for a sustainable guide and details the company’s 100-year plan, which is based on the Seven-Generation Plan of the Iroquois Nation. The company is known for its post purchase customer service and stocks large quantities of fabric and materials in order to offer repair services (a radical act in the clothing industry). As a business practice and for environmental reasons, they want to convey the idea that their products are not disposable. Regardless of your thoughts on these ideas, I think you will find this to be a thought-provoking book.

Chouinard describes the philosophy of his company in this video of a lecture he gave at UCLA. 

4) What is a key takeaway for leaders driving improvement in how we deliver for the citizens of Missouri?

This book demonstrates the importance of gaining the trust of our customers, the citizens of Missouri. Chouinard makes the case that customer service is really about building a trusting relationship over time instead of just delivering upon a single transaction.

He also displays that it is important for employees to feel like they are a part of something bigger, something that is making a difference. A happy employee is usually a productive employee. Investing in our employees creates a more positive and productive environment. Ultimately, this type of atmosphere allows you to deliver better for those you serve. 

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  • Sophia Brothers, Department of Social Services
  • June 11, 2018 10:32 am
  • This is a common sense concept and flex time is an awesome way for companies to show that they care about their employees. Also, flex time allows employees to work hours that are more productive for them. For example, some people perform better in the early morning, while others perform better in the evening, or even later! Unfortunately, Flex time is not offered in our office.
  • Brenda Gerlach, Department of Public Safety
  • June 12, 2018 12:32 pm
  • I thought this was very interesting video and very different to what I have known working in state government. I have been with the Department of Public Safety for the past 30 years -- in the same agency. I have always felt like we were very rigid in our mindsets about what was allowed in terms of hours of work and comp time policies, etc. However, because the managers tried to give a lot of flexibility in taking accumulated leave and because I I loved the people and the work, I stayed. Now that I can see some things are changing it has made my job so much more pleasant and I feel for the first time that my job actually fits into my lifestyle. Too bad it took 30 years to get here, but I am appreciate nonetheless. I agree though you have to have self-motivated people for this system to work so the hiring/interviewing process is very important. I would like to read this book!!
  • Connie Cooper, Department of Corrections
  • June 18, 2018 10:40 am
  • I would like to see all the books in the Leadership Library be put on video and offered for new uplifting training in WRTC. The instructor could read the book and make outlines for all attending and how uplifting these would be for new additions to additional training.