Building the Patagonia Culture

by Corrine Casanova

A Patagonia onsite childcare center was created two years ago in the Reno location when nine pregnant women were about to go on maternity leave. The company saw a need and acted upon it even though the move required taking a portion of their retail outlet space. At their main headquarters in Ventura, the childcare center recently celebrated their 25th anniversary. Mothers receive 16 weeks of paid time off while partners receive 12 weeks of paid time off following the birth or adoption of a child.  Healthcare is 100 percent paid for regardless of whether you are a full-time, part-time or temporary employee.

Patagonia is consistently voted as one of the Best Places to Work in Northern Nevada and their view of achieving work/life balance is one of the primary reasons why. But there’s other reasons too. Founder Yvon Chouinard, shared his business acumen in his book, Let My People Go Surfing:


“Patagonia exists to challenge conventional wisdom and present a new style of responsible enterprise. We believe the accepted model of capitalism that necessitates endless growth and deserves the blame for the destruction of nature must be displaced. Patagonia and its 2,000 employees have the means and the will to prove to the rest of the business world that doing the right thing makes for a good and profitable business.”


Patagonia Mission Statement:

This nearly 45-year-old company’s mission statement is, “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis,” provides some clues on why suing President Trump isn’t so far-fetched for a company like this to do.

What Does Work/Life Balance Look Like at Patagonia?

Human Resources Director, Elizabeth Cassidy and Megan Wolf, District Environmental Coordinator, Northwest, provided a peek inside Patagonia’s 343,000 square foot global distribution center in Reno located on the Truckee River. Over 90 percent of items are shipped through here. As the Patagonia philosophy runs deep throughout the organization, as a hiring manager Wolf noted, “We are one of a kind. We instill a lot of trust and empowerment to our employees and it doesn’t work without everyone’s contribution and collaboration. This is not management from the top down. If you empower the employees, you trust that people will get the work done.”

Patagonia offers a flexible work environment. What that looks like depends on your position in the company. For example, in the retail store flexibility might look a little different than in the operations center. At times, the retail store will close for a day so team members can participate in a team day where they do a fun activity together. In the operations center, managers in the quality department have the option of coming to work anytime between 6:30 and 8am. During the summer season, there’s an option to work four 10-hour shifts too. Cassidy is always looking at ways to keep evolving. She explained, “Part of my job is to try and make it easy for people here at work because they are so busy with their lives. If they are keen on donating to an environmental group, they can do a payroll deduction complete with a company match. They also have the option of volunteering for community based organizations during work hours and get compensated for it.” Recently, somebody inquired about a doggie daycare. Cassidy is exploring that.

What Does Patagonia Look for in Employees?

As a retail store manager for 12 years, Wolf  has done her fair share of hiring employees. “Basically, I hire smart people, whether or not they have retail experience doesn’t matter. It is more about how they work with people, how they liked the product and how they used it.  People don’t have to be hardcore product users, just the ability to talk to people and those that are excited about the products. There is an understanding that we are cool company and we make a great product but it doesn’t work if everybody is not working hard on the back end. In our retail stores, we give people the best service possible and treat people the way we want to be treated. Their success depends on them doing well and understanding our expectations. And we let them go. We don’t micromanage. We help and support. It all goes back to expectation and culture.”

Patagonia Perks

In the Reno operations center, free yoga classes are available in addition to the organic cafeteria that is open from 7am-7pm six days a week. The café features a buffet where there is always vegan/vegetarian options. The cost is subsidized which makes it easy for employees to get healthy options. They pay with their employee badge and the cost is deducted from their paycheck.

Cassidy continued, “The owners are thoughtful and want to make sure people are healthy and we are saving for our retirement. They do company matches for our 401K. They even put money into the account even if the employees don’t. They make sure we are planning for our future even if the employee isn’t.”

For other companies that want to create a culture like this, Cassidy recommends asking a few questions like, “Who are you hiring? What are their passions and desires? What do they wish to achieve out of their work? What kinds of things are you going to support especially with the millennials who are new to the workforce? Based on this foundation, how do you plan to move forward? For new start-ups, you have a blank slate.”


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