By Aaron S. Robertson
The following is a paper submitted by the author on February 22, 2012 for a class assignment. The author is currently pursuing a master of science in management degree from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee.
The author analyzes Patagonia Inc., a Ventura, California-based company, in the context of Franciscan Values, demonstrating that it is possible to work for monetary gain while remaining within the boundaries of an ethical and moral framework that sees the value and dignity of each employee and the world beyond.
In the world of business, more and more companies are starting to realize the value that comes with operating within an organizational culture that encourages, nay, demands, excellence through lifelong learning, ethics, and a view of the world that acknowledges, and attempts to address, concerns that do not necessarily affect the company or its bottom line. One of these companies is Patagonia Inc., based in Ventura, California. The company has become well-known for the progressive philosophy it espouses when it comes to the way it deals with its employees and the broader world, which has resulted in its abilities to attract and retain both a loyal customer following and top talent among its employee ranks.
In the following paper, this student will offer an overview of Patagonia Inc. and analyze the company through the lens of Franciscan Values and sound business practices that help it retain competitive advantage.
Overview of Patagonia Inc.
Patagonia Inc., founded by environmentalist Yvon Chouinard and in business for 35 years now, is a retailer of outdoor equipment and clothing. When Chouinard, who is still active in the business, started the company, he had a vision for it that would combine a love for lifelong learning, a fun workplace, a deep appreciation and respect for the environment, and an overall human resources strategy that would bring out the best in each and every employee through benefits, incentives, and other opportunities that would render it a difficult decision to want to leave the company (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2010, pp. 30-31).
Patagonia, in addition to providing health insurance to all of its employees, whether they are working full- or part-time, also offers a daycare facility on the campus of its corporate headquarters in Ventura. Employees also have an opportunity to take sabbaticals for up to two months – at full pay – on the condition that they work for environmental organizations during that time. College tuition reimbursement of up to 50% is also available for employees wishing to pursue a degree path in the earth/environmental sciences realm (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2010, p. 30). With these kinds of programs and opportunities in place for its employees, it is no wonder, then, that Patagonia is taking in on average some-900 resumes per job opening (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2010, p. 31). Lisa Myers, an employee of the company, notes that, “It’s easy to go to work when you get paid to do what you love to do” (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2010, p. 30).
A Look at Patagonia Inc. Through the Lens of Franciscan Values
What has become known as the Franciscan Values has its roots in the teachings and guiding philosophy of St. Francis of Assisi (Italy). Francis Bernardone, who lived from 1182-1226, is not only revered in the Roman Catholic Church, but also highly regarded by other Christian denominations, as well, for his humility, sincerity, passion for the teachings of Jesus, devotion to the poor, and love for all creatures and peoples (Office of Mission and Identity of Cardinal Stritch University, 2002, pp. 9-10). The four core Franciscan Values are creating a caring community; showing compassion; reverencing all of creation; and making peace (Office of Mission and Identity of Cardinal Stritch University, 2002, p. 4).
In analyzing the corporate philosophy of Patagonia, it is clear that the company espouses at least three of the Franciscan Values, with the fourth one, that of making peace, not so clear-cut, but arguably likely. Patagonia creates a caring community by treating its employees with the utmost respect and dignity through such means as providing health insurance regardless of full- or part-time status, and also by making available on-site daycare for the children of employees at its headquarters. Taking this concept of a caring community further, the company takes every opportunity to aid in developing the full and true potential of each employee, not just in terms of the employer-employee relationship, but simply in human terms – as human beings with unique interests, talents, and goals. Patagonia accomplishes this through various educational, volunteer, and training opportunities that might not necessarily have anything to do directly with the company’s operations, but rather lead to a more well-rounded and enlightened person in a broader context. The company demonstrates the showing of compassion and the reverencing of all creation by advocating for positive social change, acting as a caretaking steward of resources rather than as an indiscriminate consumer, and working to not only preserve the environment, but also to teach others about the importance of preservation.
The Franciscan Values, though originating from a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, are universal, in the sense that it does not matter one’s own guiding religious beliefs or philosophy – they are easy to understand and appreciate as mere human beings with the ability to reason and feel. However, those searching for a more secular analysis of Patagonia’s guiding principles and resulting corporate culture need not look further than what are known as The Magnificent Seven: General Moral Principles for Managers, developed by Kent Hodgson. These seven principles are dignity of human life; autonomy; honesty; loyalty; fairness; humaneness; and the common good (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2010, p. 24).
Patagonia would be classified as a company that subscribes to a management philosophy known as Theory Y. The set of beliefs that constitute Theory Y were formalized by Dr. Douglas McGregor. Managers subscribing to this viewpoint see employees as naturally motivated, eager to take on responsibility, and willing to use their skill sets for the good of the organization if simply allowed to do so. Contrast this philosophy with what has become known as Theory X, also formally spelled out by McGregor. Theory X assumes the polar opposite of employees (Jones & George, 2011, pp. 58-59).
With its commitment to the environment and the many opportunities it provides its employees, Patagonia has managed to develop a loyal customer base and attract some of the best talent available. Its employee incentives, highly desirable, especially in an overall tough economic and job climate, make it difficult for employees to want to look for other employment opportunities. These rewards and incentives, many of which are not typically seen at other companies in corporate America, alone are enough to keep employees motivated and striving to be their best.
In a capitalistic society, it is possible for a company to work for monetary profit while simultaneously being conscious and mindful of the larger world. Patagonia Inc. has demonstrated in its three and a half decades in business that being in business is not a necessary condition for disregarding an ethical and moral framework that takes into account how one’s actions can come to have a far-reaching impact on many others.
Because of its unwavering principles, Patagonia has been able to attract and retain many loyal and satisfied customers, as well as employees. And when a company can accomplish both of these feats, the result is a business that will see not only profits, but longevity and sustainability, as well. Working within ethical principles that take into consideration the larger world is simply good for business.
Jones, G. R., & George, J. M. (2011). Contemporary management (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
Kreitner, R., & Kinicki, A. (2010). Organizational behavior (9th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
Office of Mission and Identity of Cardinal Stritch University. (2002). Catholic franciscan values. Milwaukee, WI: Cardinal Stritch University.