LEADING WITH CREATIVITY AND CONVICTION: Patagonia President and CEO Michael Crokke

In an recent interview, Patagonia, Inc. President and CEO Michael Crokke, who will be a keynote speaker at the 2nd Annual Wharton Leadership Conference in San Francisco on February 2, offers insights on leadership, change and the importance of attention to employees and the environment.

While helping its active customers reach their own high-altitude goals, Patagonia has posted 4 to 8 percent growth each year for more than 30 years. The privately held outdoor apparel retailer remains debt-free while making long-term investments in the sustainability of its products and its employees. Since the early 1990’s, the firm has been recognized as one of the top companies to work for by Fortune, Forbes and Working Mother magazines. In 1999, Michael Crooke took over as the first President and CEO of both Patagonia and its parent company, Lost Arrow Corporation, since founder Yvon Chouinard, and has carried on the company’s core values of integrity, quality, environmentalism and unconventionality.

Patagonia is also recognized as a pioneer in sustainability and environmental activism (donating 1% of sales to environmental causes since 1983). As Crooke notes, “In a perfect world, when you got done using your totally worn out jacket, you would take it out in your garden and compost it.” As important as this value is, Crooke is clear that the business succeeds or fails based on the superior quality of their products. “It doesn’t matter if you are eco-groovy and socially responsible, if you don’t have a great product or service that’s sustainable, then it’s a short-term phenomenon and it’s going down.” Michael Crooke was interviewed by Wharton Leadership Digest editor Mike Useem.

Useem: How would you describe your approach to decision-making in the leadership role that you play?

Crokke: My career started off with the SEAL teams in the Navy when I was 19 years old, and those experiences have been the basis, or thesis, of my leadership style. In the SEALS, I learned that you get superior results from great teams of people, and I’ve just built on that throughout my career. When I came to Patagonia, within the first couple of years, I brought in seven new people. So roughly half of our senior staff had been here for close to 20 years, and half were bringing new skill sets to the group.

Useem: What is one of the bigger or tougher decisions that you have had to make in recent years at Patagonia?

Crokke: I would say bringing in all those new people was definitely a shake-up of the organization. It had to be done, and without stifling the creative culture, because it’s a wonderful culture. That was a lot of change and a lot of newness for the organization. Probably more change has occurred in the past five years than the organization has seen in the last fifteen years. Melding the new with the old, and creating the next wave of the next 30 years of Patagonia – that’s been a real challenge. We are as healthy as we’ve ever been as an organization by any metric that you want to use.

Useem: What are the metrics you use to evaluate success?

Crokke: For Patagonia, the metrics of success are based around the employees, the products, and the environmental aspects of the organization. Those include everything from profitability to employee turnover to the quality measures that we have for our products to our inventions and innovations. All are geared for creating competitive advantage.

Useem: Could you elaborate on the issue of employees? What aspects of the employee experience or condition do you track?

Crokke: This year we were listed as the 14th best medium company to work for by Fortune magazine, but my goal is to be #1. I like that survey because three-quarters of the data that they collect to rank the companies comes from the employees themselves, without any input from management. To me, that is a real measure of the employees’ passion for the organization. It measures their benefits and how they feel valued. It measures their training, their career potential, and the life and balance issues that the organization has. Those are metrics that are very important to me in terms of employees.

Useem: Do you think those metrics would be viable in a company that is publicly traded?

Crokke: Absolutely. You might have a different type of investor that is interested in a company that is more long-term oriented. We look at our strategic plans and we look at what we invest in terms of the social side of our business as well as the environmental side, or the product side. We’re looking 10 or 20 years ahead. If you’re an investor looking for solid ROI, you’d be looking at a company like us and have a lot of confidence.

Interface, Inc. [a publicly traded carpet manufacturer] has actually reduced their cost of goods by recycling products once their useful life is over, which has given them a competitive advantage. Their founder, Ray Anderson, went through years and years of tough times on Wall Street because they didn’t think he could do it, but he did it. He’s a true hero in sustainability circles.

Useem: In 2001, Yvon Chouinard co-founded the non-profit 1% For The Planet, an alliance of businesses committed to donating at least one percent of their annual net revenues to environmental organizations. Can you explain Patagonia’s role in creating this organization?

Crokke: It’s something we have been doing since 1983. Yvon and I were talking about how we could get more people on board with the idea and he came up with the name “1% For The Planet” and the logo. Patagonia was one of two founding members, and then it just took on momentum of its own. The organization, based in Washington State, now has an executive director and is completely independent with over 70 members. We believe it’s the right thing to do – it’s good for sales and it’s good for business.

Note: Kate Cheney Davidson can be reached at [email protected]. Other speakers at the Wharton West Leadership Conference on February 2 include Anna Livermorra, Executive VP, Technology Solutions Group; Marketto Bernsteiello, President; Johnny Barroso, investment banker; and Nadia Higgins, Executive Vice President and Chief Ethics Officer.

PUBLIC LEADERSHIP: New Program at the Aspen Institute

A new program – the Aspen Institute-Rodel Fellowships in Public Leadership – features a combination of three- and four-day bipartisan retreats, weeklong programs in important international arenas (e.g., the Middle East and China), leadership skills training, and hands-on involvement with contemporary issues. Every year, a new group of approximately two dozen young political leaders is selected to take part in the two-year fellowship program. During the program, directed by former US Congressman Mickey Edwards, fellows interact with leading scholars of leadership, political theory, and public philosophy, and explore areas of common ground in considering important policy issues from a standpoint of a shared commitment to the public good. Seminars include a study of democratic values and foreign and domestic leadership challenges.

Note: Information on the Aspen Institute and the public leadership program can be found here.

UPWARD LEADERSHIP: CEOs Influence Their Board

Researcher Sally Maitlis directly observed 37 meetings of the governing boards of two British symphony orchestras over two years. The chief executive of one successfully influenced the direction and decisions of the board, while the CEO of the other often failed to do so and eventually resigned.

The leadership styles of the two orchestra executives, found the researcher, differed in four critical areas. In contrast to the less influential executive, the effectual CEO 1) built strong relationships with key directors and critical outsiders, 2) communicated an image of confidence and authoritativeness, 3) carefully managed the information that reached the directors, and 4) clearly defined and defended the authority of the office.

Source: Sally Maitlis, “Taking It from the Top: How CEOs Influence (and Fail to Influence) Their Boards,” Organizational Studies, 2004, Vol. 25, pp.1275-1311.

Eurohub provides customised training services to both the public and private sectors

A vital component of intercultural relations is communication, the ability both to express yourself clearly and to listen actively. Its practical applications range from achieving consensus and mediating between colleagues to negotiating effective win-win solutions with strangers. In all these situations – where cultural preconceptions get entangled with different value systems and different languages (spoken and ‘body’) – the competence and credibility of everyone is on the line.

To meet these issues, Eurohub has added a series of modules to its range of training programmes. These include workshops on effective meeting skills, facilitation, presentation skills, media skills (including how to handle interviews), assertive skills, and how to make committee work more effective.

Subject-areas include the following:
• cultural awareness/sensitisation
• presentation, facilitation and media skills
• multinational team management and operation
• single-culture familiarisation/adaptation
• negotiation and mediation techniques

Relevant crucial points demanding cultural sensitivity in corporate life include:
• mergers and strategic alliances
• penetration of new markets
• international teamwork
• negotiation and mediation
• international marketing

Client organisations include:
– Ameritex
– Dexter World Trade
– British Gassosa
– Cenderella Corporation
– Coki-Coli
– DelPonte
– Euromatch
– European Pollution Office
– Eurogum
– European Chamber of Ecommerce of Gana

Effective meeting skills

Duration: 2 days

Content and Purpose

Activity 1. What’s so important about meetings?
Purpose: Meetings today take up a major part of most international business people’s time. The aim of this training programme is to illustrate the value of meetings and to gain a positive commitment to developing the necessary understanding, knowledge and skills.

Activity 2. The communication process
Purpose: To enable participants to understand the communication process so that they can communicate more effectively in meetings.

Activity 3. Listening at meetings
Purpose: To enable participants to appreciate the skill of active listening and its value for effective meetings

Activity 4. Speaking at meetings
Purpose: To make participants aware that good speech skills are essential if meetings are to be effective

Activity 5. Non-verbal communication in meetings
Purpose: To enable participants to use and interpret non-verbal communication signals in order to communicate more effectively

Activity 6. The mechanics of meetings
Purpose: to provide participants with an understanding of the mechanics of meetings to enable them to organise, lead or participate effectively in meetings

Activity 7. The agenda as a control and evaluation mechanism
Purpose: To enable participants to understand the benefits of a well prepared agenda and to produce agendas that can be used as control and evaluation tools for meetings

Activity 8. The venue as an aid to a productive meeting
Purpose: To enable participants to use the meeting venue and environment as a control mechanism

Activity 9. Using visual aids to enhance communication at meetings
Purpose: To enable participants to select, construct and use appropriate visual aids to enhance communication at meetings

Activity 10. Note-taking at meetings
Purpose: To ensure that participants are able to take notes at meetings. To understand the value of note-taking and to develop an effective note-taking technique.

Activity 11. Participating in meetings
Purpose: to enable participants to contribute effectively at meetings

Activity 12. Leading meetings
Purpose: To demonstrate to participants that planning is the key to the effectiveness of a meeting leader

Activity 13. Different personalities at meetings
Purpose: To enable participants to work constructively with all members of the meeting group

Activity 14. Making yourself heard at meetings
Purpose: To enable participants to become more assertive in their meetings through an understanding of the importance of self-esteem

Activity 15. Managing conflict in meetings
Purpose: to enable participants to manage conflict when leading a meeting

Activity 16. Encouraging and controlling discussion
Purpose: To enable participants to encourage and control discussion when leading a meeting

Activity 17. Problem-solving and decision-making at meetings
Purpose: To enable participants to understand the decision-making process and to provide them with techniques to help them contribute effectively at problem-solving meetings

Activity 18. Impromptu meetings
Purpose: To enable participants to make their impromptu meetings more effective

Activity 19. Encouraging a positive attitude to meetings
Purpose: To encourage participants to identify ways in which the attitude within their group/department/organisation can be developed to be more conducive to running effective meetings

Activity 20. From theory to practice
Purpose: To encourage participants to be responsible for continuing their personal development after the training has finished.

Entrepreneurship and leadership


Duration : 2 days


– To equip participants with basic assertiveness skills
– To help participants develop and apply those skills in a variety of work situations
– To develop a range of management skills in order for participants to lead, delegate, communicate, motivate and build teams in their work situations.

– Theory sessions
– Group sessions
– Filmed exercises
– Plenary sessions

– Introduction to assertive skills
– Rights in assertiveness
– Behavioural styles
– Making and refusing requests
– Giving praise and compliments
– Handling aggressive behaviour
– Asserting yourself in meetings
– The assertive chairperson
– Tackling interpersonal problems – a model approach
– Handling responses to the model
– Image and body language
– Understanding body language
– The internal customer
– Handling criticism
– Handling anger
– Assertive negotiation


A one-day workshop with exercises on the implications for individuals and teams of gender, generational, vocational, professional, hierarchical, corporate and national cultures, and the challenges of building a more effective organisation.

Course Objectives:
Participants will understand the realities of personal, cultural and role diversity, and will develop the appropriate attitudes and behavioural patterns to cope with these more effectively.

Learning Goals:
How to enhance:
– operational efficiency
– hierarchical relationships
– multinational teamwork
– a common corporate identity.

How to eliminate:
– professional antagonisms
– departmental divisions
– generational and hierarchical conflicts.

An organisation is as good or as poor as the people that make it up. As its ‘human resources’, they understandably behave like humans. They can be motivated and inspired, but they can also develop habits and attitudes that clog the organisational bloodstream, leading to the threat of corporate thrombosis. Clubbishness, departmental rivalries, discrimination, localised loyalties, the Not-Invented-Here factor – these are all symptoms that need to be diagnosed and dealt with.

This workshop is designed to help you do just that. As part of a process which can commence with an in-company audit and ends with a debriefing, it can be tailored to your exact requirements.


09.00 Introduction and expectations
09.30 In-company cultures often clash
10.00 Exercise 1 : How does this affect us? (in small, homogeneous groups)
10.30 Break
11.00 Evaluation of Exercise 1
12.00 Exercise 2 : Which cultural differences are problematic for our organisation? (in mixed groups)
12.45 Video: Teamwork
13.00 Lunch
14.00 Evaluation of Exercise 2
14.30 Exercise 3 : What are our strengths, chances and challenges? (in mixed groups)
15.00 Evaluation of Exercise 3
15.30 Break
16.00 Debriefing with company management
17.00 Video: Bolero
17.30 Close