A good friend, Tom Brokaw, has called him a dirtbag. This is a term of endearment.
According to mountain climbing lore, a dirtbag is a person who dedicates her or his entire existence to the pursuit of mountain climbing, even living in a tent or vehicle to save money.
If you have been reading the news lately, you will know who I am talking about. It is Yvon Chouinard.
Chouinard has been in the news because he has just given away his billion dollar company. And people that know him were not that surprised. His bold and generous gift is consistent with his dirtbag values and his authentic desire, over his lifetime, to try and save our planet.
Yvon Chouinard – the ‘existential dirtbag’ who founded and gifted Patagonia
Chouinard told the New York Times:
“I was in Forbes magazine listed as a billionaire, which really, really pissed me off. I don’t have $1bn in the bank. I don’t drive Lexuses.”
Chouinard, who drives a beaten-up Subaru with a surfboard strapped to the roof, says he hopes giving away the company “will influence a new form of capitalism that doesn’t end up with a few rich people and a bunch of poor people”.
He is a businessperson, but very much by accident, and finds the descriptor offensive. He once told a journalist from Outside Magazine during a multi-day climbing trip up Mount Arrowhead, in Wyoming, that he would prefer to be referred to as a “dirtbag”.
Challenged by the reporter, who argued that you can’t be a multimillionaire and a dirtbag, Chouinard said he gave away all of this money and he doesn’t “even have a savings account”.
“But that’s not even the point,” Chouinard continued. “Being a dirtbag is a matter of philosophy, not personal wealth. I’m an existential dirtbag.”
At the same time, Mr. Chouinard’s relinquishment of the family fortune is in keeping with his long standing disregard for business norms, and his lifelong love for the environment.
How Did Yvon Chouinard Give Away Patagonia?
David Gelles writes about the intersection of climate and the corporate world and has covered Patagonia for nearly a decade.
He explains, in his New York Times article, how Chouinard arranged such a massive gift to the world.
Rather than selling the company or taking it public, Mr. Chouinard, his wife and two adult children have transferred their ownership of Patagonia, valued at about $3 billion, to a specially designed trust and a nonprofit organization. They were created to preserve the company’s independence and ensure that all of its profits — some $100 million a year — are used to combat climate change and protect undeveloped land around the globe.
Patagonia will continue to operate as a private, for-profit corporation based in Ventura, Calif., selling more than $1 billion worth of jackets, hats and ski pants each year. But the Chouinards, who controlled Patagonia until last month, no longer own the company.
In August (2022), the family irrevocably transferred all the company’s voting stock, equivalent to 2 percent of the overall shares, into a newly established entity known as the Patagonia Purpose Trust.
The trust, which will be overseen by members of the family and their closest advisers, is intended to ensure that Patagonia makes good on its commitment to run a socially responsible business and give away its profits.
The Chouinards then donated the other 98 percent of Patagonia, its common shares, to a newly established nonprofit organization called the Holdfast Collective, which will now be the recipient of all the company’s profits and use the funds to combat climate change.
In his memoir, Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, Chouinard wrote that if he “had to be a businessman” he was “going to do it on my own terms”.
There can be no doubt about this.
Yvon Chouinard Is the Founder of Patagonia. He’s Also My ‘Dirtbag’ Friend.
Tom Brokaw has spent more than a half century as a journalist at NBC News and is a longtime friend of Yvon Chouinard.
In a guest essay for the New York Times, Brokaw had this to say about his friend.
Yvon Chouinard still possesses, in the proud parlance of the climbing community, the “dirtbag” sensibility. In the 1960s, he lived to climb and made do selling handmade climbing gear so he could devote himself to the mountains.
Even today, at the age of 83, when he visits my wife and me in our New York City apartment, he’s likely to spread out his sleeping bag on our sofa when he retires for the night.
I know Yvon best as a rock climber, fly fisherman, family man and visionary. With a genius for invention and design, this self-taught blacksmith founded Patagonia, the outdoor clothing retailer, and turned it into a global brand.
For decades, Patagonia gave away 1 percent of its sales to environmental causes. Last week, Yvon announced that he, along with his wife and children, had given away the company, valued at $3 billion, to a trust and a nonprofit group. Now the company’s profits of some $100 million a year will be used to fight climate change and safeguard some of the planet’s dwindling wild places.
He knows his time is running out on his crusade to save the planet. He’s trying to do his part and he’s impatient with the rest of us.
According to Brokaw, “Yvon has once again set a gigantic standard for others to consider”.
Until next time, let our warm hearts soar!
And thank you for caring that little bit extra – it really makes a big difference.