THOUGHTS—Lessons from Vincent Stanley, Patagonia’s Director of Philosophy

29 March 2019


5 minutes


Patagonia Vincent Stanley

Vincent Stanley is Patagonia’s Director of Philosophy.

As a young man, he always wanted to be a writer, but that wasn’t paying the bills. So at the age of 20, he joined with a small band of friends who shared a love of the great outdoors, climbing and hiking. They followed their pal Yvon Chouinard (who founded Patagonia in 1973) up the hill to make some money and eventually build a very good clothing business.

At the age of 40, Vincent realised that he, “really had to start taking this writing thing seriously”. He’d also established that, “what we do at work is most critical. 80% of our impact happens at work”. So he spent the next 25 years infusing his passion for the written word into his commitment to the business he’d help shape as a world leader in “doing the right thing”.

I spent the morning with him as he spoke to Andrea Almeida, Executive Director of B Corp Australia. Eloquent and charming, Vincent’s disarmingly honest manner was perfect for a room filled with eager Good business folk, keen to hear how Patagonia go about everyday business in their unusually compelling way.

Here’s just some of the nuggets I picked up from this power-packed yet diminutive chap. Enjoy.

On Consumption and Consumers

“The severity of climate change is now touching everybody. It’s coming home.”

“We’re witnessing a change in consumption patterns where climate and consumption stories are on parallel tracks.”

“The consequences of our way of living are so much more visible now. And people are taking notice.”

“Reflect before you buy.”

“Our old mission statement lasted a long time. It was good. Mission statements must adopt aspirational language, embody our values. Now we just say “We’re in business to save the whole planet.”

On Corporates Doing Good

“If you have a purpose, you have to act on it.”

“You have to do stuff. To act. It changes the company from within.”

“Yvon often reminds me that “Every time I’ve done the right thing, I’ve made a ton of money.””

“The needs of a business change over time. And you have to adapt and change with it. It’s like being married. You both have to evolve. I’ve been married 38 years. Sometimes I think I’ve married the same woman 3 or 4 times.”

“When we started we were so incompetent. Someone said ‘we have to go to a trade show’, the rest of asked ‘what’s a trade show?’”

“Unilever have 400 brands. 26 of them are B Corps. Those 26 contributed 46% of Unilever’s growth last year.”

“Don’t look to government to lead. Governments are slow to act because they respond to public pressure.”

“Engage your customers in whatever they’re interested and moved by. There are so many opportunities.”

“Corporate activism is a necessary component of having a social or environmental perspective at work. I don’t mean government lobbying or being extreme but to be deliberate in living your values, at work and at home.”

“Radical transparency means saying ‘here are all the things we’re not proud of’. Get it out there. Be brave. We all have to know what the problems are so that they can be addressed. Otherwise, we just go on participating in a broken system without a clue of how to change it.”

“Our constraints are what drive our innovation.”

“Don’t think about it as profits versus doing the right thing. Your long-range business objectives have to merge with the business model.”

“You have to live your values out in an extreme way. As a business, we have on-site childcare, because this is important to our people. And if someone has to travel for business we send a nanny.”

“You’ve heard it before but it’s worth reiterating ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’.”

A lot of this was the result of an enjoyable and intelligent Q&A with the B Corp community; something which, so often, gets cut short. Thanks Andrea, Gaya and the B Corp team. Great job. And to anyone seeking to go a bit deeper on all things Patagonia, this tale is a good place to start.