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Two High Endurance Entrepreneurs Tell Us About Staying Put

In a previous post I talked about two different varieties of Entrepreneurs: Venture Capital Stars and Endurance Entrepreneurs.

Today I’ll profile two business marathoners who stayed put, building their companies for the long haul, sticking with it during fat and lean times, for 30 years or more. They are Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia and Jack Stack of SRC Holdings.

This is an especially interesting pair because their background and companies are so different. But, oh, the lessons they have for us!

Two High Endurance Entrepreneurs

 Yvon Chouinard never started out to be a business man. The title of his business biography, “Let my People Go Surfing: the Education of a Reluctant BusinessMan” says it all.

Yvon Chouinard

Yvon Chouinard, Endurance Entreprenur

“I started making my climbing gear again and moved the operation (from the back of his car) into a tin shed near the Lockheed aircraft plant in Burbank. That year I put out my first catalog, a one-page mimeographed list of items and prices, with a blunt disclaimer on the bottom saying not to expect fast delivery during the months of May to November.”

Yvon Chouinard, from his business biography

In 2013, Patagonia’s 1,350 employees made and sold $350 million of specialty outdoor sports gear and clothes.

Jack Stack didn’t start out to be a businessman either, but he found himself entrusted with a dying division of International Harvester.

Jack Stack

Jack Stack, Endurance Enterpreneur

“I was actually sent down here (Springfield Remanufacturing Division of International Harvester) to either close the facility or to get it up and running. IH (International Harvester) banked on it being closed. I basically fell in love with the people.

IH had to start selling assets all over the place. Our people in Springfield were looking at the assets sales and the factory closings and were panicking. They were trying to figure out what was going to happen. They were asking me whether they should get married, whether they should have a kid, whether they should buy a car.

So I suggested that we try to buy the place. I was hoping that they would say “You’re crazy,” because I didn’t know anything about running a company. I knew how to make things but I didn’t know how to make a company, because I was never taught how to.”

Jack Stack, from an interview by Christopher Vaughn for the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship.

Today, SRC Holdings (the umbrella corporation for the expanded Springfield Remanufacturing company) is a diversified manufacturing and logistics company with 1,600 employees and 2013 revenues of $450 million:

  • SRC Heavy Duty
  • SRC Automotive
  • SRC Logistics
  • SRC Power Systems
  • SRC Electrical
  • SRC of Lexington
  • NewStream Enterprises

What They Tell Us

To last a long time in business, we have to decide why we’re doing it. For Yvon Chouinard, it took years to discover his core reason for becoming a reluctant businessman:

“… I wanted to create in Patagonia a model other businesses could look to in their own searches for environmental stewardship and sustainability, just as our pitons an ice axes were models for other equipment manufacturers.”

Jack Stack’s realization was immediate and elemental:

“We’ve always been terrified of being forced to lay people off, and so we’ve spent the past 26 years trying to make sure we would never have to do that.”

I think our lesson is that a strong desire to succeed and grow wealth can last a decade; but it takes a larger purpose to sustain lifetime entrepreneurship. We can start a business because we believe in a product or service. We can grow that business because we want to be rewarded for delivering it everyone. However, somewhere along the way, when our original goals fade, we need to replace them. We don’t need to rush into our new realization, but we do need to accept it.

If we’re in business long enough, the business will change… and so will we. Yvon Chouinard started out to make rock climbing hardware. He designed, built and marketed two generations of equipment that changed the sport of rock climbing. Several years later he separated and sold that part of the business to concentrate on purpose-built clothing for outdoor adventure. Outdoors people everywhere 3-layer their clothing because Patagonia adapted emerging synthetic fabrics into a protective clothing system. Yvon the innovative constructor had matured into Yvon the technology adaptor… with the same sport-changing results.

Jack Stack started out by leading a small company on a desperate mission to grow into a secure jobs fortress with enough profits to share among everyone who helped create them. To do that he had to develop a way to involve everyone, and then had to teach them that way; the Great Game of Business. Over time Jack learned to diversity Springfield Remanufacturing, and Jack evolved into what Inc. Magazine calls “the smartest strategist in America”.

We should expect our business to change. And us along with it. It’s natural, and necessary. Fortunately, there’s ample evidence that we don’t have to understand it all… circumstances and on-the-job learning will do that for us.

There’s room for another passion besides our business. Over time, as their companies have grown and they’ve moved in wider circles, each endurance entrepreneur has found another enduring passion. For each, their second passion reflects deep personal experience and realizes deeply held beliefs… maybe that’s why they’re such respected advocates.

Jack Stack: The Great Game of Business

Stack, Jack, Burlingham, Bo, “The Great Game of Business, Expanded and Updated: The Only Sensible Way to Run a Company, Crown Business, 2013, ISBN 978-0-385-34833-1

https://www.greatgame.com

Yvon Chouinard: philosophies for sustainable, responsible business

Chouinard, Yvon, Stanley, Vincent, “Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned from Patagonia’s First 40 Years”, Patagonia Books, 2012, ISBN 978-0-980-12278-7

http://www.onepercentfortheplanet.org

For us, our lifelong business isn’t the end of the road; it can be a steppingstone. And we can start thinking about that second right away, while we have time to nurture it. Even if we don’t have the time or opportunity to give to our second passion right now, we can take the optimistic high road: someday we’ll find that we’re better known for our passion than our business.

And that’s some of what endurance entrepreneurs have to say to us.

So… the next time you’re tempted to take advice from “top influencers” in the social media, I hope you’ll ask yourself about their background. Their experience might not fit your situation. But don’t worry; it’s a big entrepreneurial planet and someone, somewhere, has walked in your shoes and lived to talk about it online. Even if you’re on a lifetime walk.

GoodBusiness is committed to helping you find that just-for-you advice.

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3 Comments

  1. JAMES OJUOK says:

    “To last a long time in business , we have to decide why we are doing it” sums it up for me. I will make it a point of going through the websites for an indepth study..thanks!!

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    • Chris Chadbourne says:

      Jorja, that’s great! While you’re at it, why not subscribe and receive an email note every time we update the site?

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