“Earth is now our only shareholder. Yvon Chouinard, the eccentric founder of sportswear brand Patagonia, has left his $ 3 billion empire to fight climate change, announced at New York Times and in an open letter. He has transferred all of the company’s shares to a confidence and an NGO responsible for allocating all annual profits (approximately $ 100 million) to the planet, in particular to the conservation of threatened habitats.
At 83, Yvon Chouinard, an American of Québec origin, explains that “he never wanted to become a businessman”. And even less a billionaire. “One option was to sell Patagonia and give all the money away. But we couldn’t be sure that a new owner would keep the job and our values, “he wrote. The other was an IPO,” which would be a disaster. “” Even with the best of intentions, listed companies are under pressure to making short-term profits at the expense of long-term vitality and responsibility “, explains the man who aspires to” reinvent capitalism “.
Supported by his children
Chouinard then asked his lawyers to be creative. Eventually, he transferred the voting shares to a trust supervised by family members and advisors. The entity will be responsible for ensuring that Patagonia honors its commitments. All remaining shares (98%) were bequeathed to a newly created NGO, which will receive the company’s annual profits. Patagonia therefore remains a for-profit company, but “every year the money we earn after reinvesting in the company will be distributed as a dividend to fight the (climate) crisis”, the manager explains.
Unlike the charitable donations of many billionaires, this is not about tax optimization – the Chouinard family will even pay $ 17.5 million in tax on the shares transferred to the fund. The patriarch specifies that his two forty-year-old sons, who will not inherit the family business, support him 100%.
An atypical garment
An expert mountaineer, Yvon Chouinard began in the 1960s making his own climbing bolts and then selling them, he who spent his time climbing the dizzying facades of Yosemite, California. At the time, he slept in the car and ate bruised canned cat food, he says in his biography of him.
He started importing rugby shirts and then producing sports and mountain clothing with Patagonia in 1973. But wool has a big problem: it gets heavy and cold with humidity. It was then that he came across an acrylic toilet seat rug. He transforms it a few years later. He was born the fleece jacket.
As Patagonia triples its turnover in a few years, Yvon Chouinard is faced with a dilemma: he has become an actor of this runaway consumerism that is impoverishing the planet. In 1985 he commits himself to allocate 1% of the turnover to the environment. Then he switched to organic cotton, grown without pesticides, and recycled polyester in the early 1990s. New York Timesduring Black Friday, in 2011, and the company boycotted the Facebook advertising program from June 2020. Militant choices praised by customers and cited as examples by many business schools.
Today Yvon Chouinard is no longer a billionaire. He is almost a relief for anyone who drives an old Subaru and doesn’t own a PC or smartphone.