Beautiful Leadership – Patagonia’s Righteous Flywheel


Yesterday I wrote the first in a sequence of posts on Beautiful Leadership, noting: “On one day alone last week, at least four wonderful examples of Beautiful Leadership found their way to me”:

  • an NBA star and father empowering young women by walking the talk.
  • a brave woman CEO in the UK leading by example around income inequality, though with some sadly paradoxical behaviour in how I learned of her leadership.
  • an environmental activism movement masquerading as a large US corporation taking the Trump tax cut it received and giving it back to the planet.
  • a Hollywood movie star finding the power and passion of a moment irresistible and showing leadership which made real a project that has since touched millions. (see post “From Now On“)

Today’s post shares a story about a company that states clearly that they are “The Activitist Company”, and “the protection and preservation of the environment isn’t what we do after hours. It’s the reason we’re in business and every day’s work.”

I’ve worked a lot around Brands and Branding during my career. A simple thought is that your Brand is who you are, your Branding is how you represent this to the world. This company is absolutely clear on who they are.

Now, to their recent example of beautiful leadership around the Trump tax cut.

Patagonia is giving its $10 million tax cut back to the planet

This headline on a story from Fast Company spoke to me right away as an example of #BeautifulLeadership, of a company clear on who they are and leading from that space.

This article was a “rip and read” of a post on LinkedIn by Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia, titled “Our Urgent Gift to the Planet“, in which she noted, with powerful and strong language:

“Based on last year’s irresponsible tax cut, Patagonia will owe less in taxes this year—$10 million less, in fact. Instead of putting the money back into our business, we’re responding by putting $10 million back into the planet. Our home planet needs it more than we do.”

“Far too many have suffered the consequences of global warming in recent months, and the political response has so far been woefully inadequate—and the denial is just evil.”

“Taxes protect the most vulnerable in our society, our public lands and other life-giving resources. In spite of this, the Trump administration initiated a corporate tax cut, threatening these services at the expense of our planet.”

“In this season of giving, we are giving away this tax cut to the planet, our only home, which needs it now more than ever.”

Powerful, clear, intentional leadership, and also the type of #BeautifulLeadership focussed on being what Alan Moore calls a restorative business.

Now, some will be thinking that such leadership by their CEO may not be aligned to such concepts as “shareholder value” and other metrics from our deeply entrenched traditional economics models.

Here is where the “Righteous Flywheel” comes in.

Earlier in 2018, Fast Company published a “long read” article linked from that shorter piece last week, called “How Patagonia Grows Every Time It Amplifies Its Social Mission“.

The article highlights how Patagonia’s CEO decided, the morning after the US Presidential election in November 2016, to “double down” on their focus as what I earlier called “an environmental activism movement masquerading as a large US corporation”.

I mean that in the most positive way. I love business, I love the way organising as a business can create value. However, let me be clear, I wish for a world where we define value in additive and restorative ways, in beautiful ways.

Value is not simply about shareholder value, we can no longer separate the traditional capitalist motives from the needs of our communities, our societies, our planet.

At the same time, it is in taking the best of what being a business means (whether you are a profit-focussed business, a charity, even a government, they are all a “business” to me) and then looking at a more rounded purpose and vision, that is where teh future lies.

Profit and People and Planet. Those “three Ps” make for a restorative business.

Now that I have nailed my own colours to the mast, perhaps you can see ever more clearly why my homepage states my focus in my work as “I help visionary leaders see beyond their own vision” ?

So, Back to Patagonia and that long read article.

Incited by Trump’s agenda, the company has upped its commitment to environmental activism, making an unprecedented bet on corporate social responsibility. This has served not only to energize product innovation and marketing but to grow the company’s brand awareness and sales. Marcario has overseen a quadrupling of Patagonia’s revenue in her decade-long tenure with the company, pursuing investments in sustain­able design and manufacturing and in startups allied with Patagonia’s mission.

The company has built a righteous flywheel, like an Amazon for do-gooders: The more it invests in its beliefs and its products, the better Patagonia performs, develops creative solutions, and maps out a blueprint for other businesses, big and small, to follow.

“Doing good work for the planet,” Marcario says, “creates new markets and makes [us] more money.” That’s the Patagonia way.

I work with businesses that seek to be ever more restorative. I work with those wishing to always grow in being #BeautifulLeaders.

I hope my writing and this piece, in particular, provokes you to think about what you can do to grow in how you lead and lead beautifully.

Also published on Medium.