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Patagonia Owner Gives $3 Billion Company to Planet Earth

Yvon Chouinard, who founded the outdoors apparel company in 1973, says in stunning transfer, 'Earth is now our only shareholder.'

Patagonia Owner Gives $3 Billion Company to Planet Earth

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard announced that ownership of the company would be transferred to two non-profit organizations devoted to fighting climate change. (Photo courtesy of Ross Purnell, Editor and Publisher of Fly Fisherman Magazine)

"I never wanted to be a businessman."

Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia and a man who reportedly splits his time between modest homes in California and Montana, never wanted to be a billionaire either. But the rock climber, alpinist, and fly fisher became both.

But on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, the 83-year-old announced that he is now neither, after a stunning transfer of ownership of the well-known outdoors clothing company to two non-profit organizations. Patagonia, founded by Chouinard in 1973, has an estimated $1.5 billion in annual sales.

"Instead of 'going public,' you could say we're 'going purpose,'" said Chouinard in a letter posted on the Patagonia website. "Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we'll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth."

And that, of course, is planet Earth and its wild landscapes and natural beauty that Chouinard cherishes. Chouinard, whose rise to fame began more than 50 years ago while he reportedly lived out of the back of a car, ate cans of cat food, and climbed vertical terrain in Yosemite National Park, was never comfortable with his public persona or the wealth that the company created. Patagionia has made and sold environmentally friendly products for fly fishers, rock climbers, mountaineers, skiers, and more.

In fact, for a man whose entire life has been committed to the ideals of leaving the planet better than he found it, his wealth became a rock in his proverbial shoe.

"I was in Forbes magazine listed as a billionaire, which really, really pissed me off," Chouinard told New York Times writer David Gelles in a story detailing the surprising transfer news. "I don't have $1 billion in the bank. I don't drive Lexuses."

Instead, he has been an unpretentious man, wearing simple clothes, driving a worn vehicle, and eschewing the lime light for moments spent outside.

Even as he became somewhat of a celebrity—an environmentally conscious celebrity—Chouinard stayed true to his natural roots and principles he learned as boy growing up in Maine, the son of a French Canadian handyman, mechanic, and plumber. In fact, according to the New York Times, to this day, Chouinard doesn't own a cell phone or a computer.




Instead of accumulating wealth for his own pursuits, Chouinard was keenly interested in doing something for the good of the Earth and to fight climate change, trying to do far more than just give out the sound bites of others that major on talk and minor on action.

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard
In his stunning company-transfer announcement, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard said, 'Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we'll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth.' (Photo courtesy of Patagonia)

To that end, it's well known that the company has given away 1-percent of its annual sales for many years now. Add in making products with environmentally friendly materials and manufacturing processes, taking care of the company's employees, and promoting causes that matched Chouinard's earth-friendly philosophies—and those of his wife Malinda and the couple's two children, Fletcher and Claire. Patagonia has always reflected the generous mindset of the man who founded it.

As a lover of many things in the outdoors world, including surfing, kayaking, rock climbing, mountaineering, skiing, and even falconry, it's easy to see why fly fishing has also been such a natural extension of Chouinard's life.

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Chouinard is a fly-fishing author, writing the book, Simple Fly Fishing: Techniques for Tenkara and Rod & Reel back in 2014 and occasionally penning a story for Fly Fisherman magazine as well.

He has also appeared on the Outdoor Channel original programming called Buccaneers and Bones, casting a fly line alongside the likes of TV news icon Tom Brokaw, noted author Tom McGuane, rock and roll star Huey Lewis, actor Michael Keaton, and more.

The show explored the bonefish-, permit-, and tarpon-rich flats of tropical waters in the U.S. and the Caribbean, while spotlighting and supporting the conservation work of the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust.

So it's little wonder that in Fly Fisherman’s 50th anniversary magazine issue in 2018, Chouinard was honored as one of the sport's icons in the article, The 50 Most Influential Fly Fishers.

"The owner of Patagonia is rightly credited as a pioneering rock climber and alpinist who reinvented those sports, not only through feats of skill in the mountains but through his talent as a blacksmith, and his simple inventions like removable rock protection, and angled ice tools and crampons for climbing vertical ice,” the 2018 Fly Fisherman story noted. "He is also a kayaker, surfer, and a lifelong fly fisher who changed the way we approach and enjoy our sport through his corporate environmental activism. Indeed, that term might not be part of our lexicon if not for Yvon Chouinard.

"In the 1970s, his company provided office space for the group Friends of the Ventura River to improve steelhead spawning habitat. Soon after, he began to make regular donations to other groups working directly to save or restore habitat. In 1986, Patagonia committed 10% of its profits each year to conservation, and in 2002 with Craig Mathews he started 1% For the Planet, which encouraged other corporations and individuals to make similar efforts. Yvon Chouinard came up with the idea of a corporate “tithe” going toward environmental causes, and he has inspired hundreds of other companies and private individuals to do the same. In the past 40 years, all of us have all benefited from it."

 Yvon Chouinard at Campfire
Instead of accumulating wealth for his own pursuits, Yvon Chouinard was keenly interested in doing something for the good of the Earth and to fight climate change. (Photo courtesy of Ross Purnell)

But this week, after several years of soul searching and trying to figure out what to do with the company and wealth that he never sought, the thought of taking the company public was scrapped, along with several other possibilities. In the end, Chouinard determined to move far beyond the idea of a corporate tithe. Instead of giving a percentage of his wealth, he decided to give it all away.

Because in this case, it really is more blessed to give than to receive. And that's what Chouinard explained to the world Wednesday in an extraordinary business move that few saw coming, and one that rocked the daily news cycle as the Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the BBC, and many other major news outlets quickly picked up the unusual story.

'This is What We Can Do'

Chouinard wrote in his letter:

"Here's how it works: 100% of the company’s voting stock transfers to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, created to protect the company’s values; and 100% of the nonvoting stock had been given to the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature. The funding will come from Patagonia: Each year, the money we make after reinvesting in the business will be distributed as a dividend to help fight the crisis.”

He also noted that "Earth is now our only shareholder."

"If we have any hope of a thriving planet—much less a business—it is going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have," he indicated. "This is what we can do."

Indeed. And rather than being a rich celebrity who gave talking points and bullet points in made-for-television interviews, Chouinard decided that he would push all of his voluminous chips to the middle of the table and go all in, effectively putting his money where his mouth has always been.

"It's been nearly 50 years since we began our experiment in responsible business, and we are just getting started," Chouinard said. "If we have any hope of a thriving planet—much less a thriving business—50 years from now, it is going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have. This is another way we've found to do our part.

"Despite its immensity, the Earth's resources are not infinite, and it's clear we've exceeded its limits. But it's also resilient. We can save our planet if we commit to it."

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