Our Christmas Book List – Part 1 – Let My People Go Surfing

16th November 2022

With Christmas just round the corner, it’s time to think about what presents you’ll be buying your family this year. We think we can help.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing the books that have most influenced Secret Source. The books that inspired us to start our company, and the books that have shaped how we work. Books that we think would make a perfect Christmas gift!

Book 1 – Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

If you’ve ever worked with Secret Source, you’ll have already guessed that “Let My People Go Surfing” would be top of our list. Yvon Chouinard’s book inspired our founder, Richard, to start Secret Source, and it was the blueprint from which Secret Source was built.

Let My People Go Surfing is the autobiography of Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia. It recounts his life from his early days as an avid climber in California in the 1950s, where he designed, made and sold climbing equipment out of the back of his car to the founding of the billion dollar clothing brand Patagonia, all whilst sticking to his core values of just doing good.

“At Patagonia, the goal is not the amount of profit, but the amount of good that it has accomplished over the year, because, as the Zen master would say, profits happen when “you do everything else right.” “

It’s not your typical business book. In addition to the many lessons you can learn, it’s full of some great stories too. Every company starts with a bit of luck and Patagonia is no exception. In 1970, he went climbing in Scotland and on an impulse bought a rugby shirt. For him, it was the perfect climbing top as it was tough and the collar protected his neck from the rope. He took the shirt back home to the USA and continued wearing it. Before he knew it, he’d accidentally kicked off a new climbing fashion trend of brightly coloured rugby shirts. He began selling them which ultimately led to the formation of Patagonia.

The book isn’t just a life story though. It details how the company is run and why it is run the way it is. It gives detailed insights into how they created their culture, their policies and the history behind them. At the time Patagonia was formed, the way they worked was quite revolutionary. It was founded in the seventies, a time when people went to work in suits and only worked 9-5, they introduced full flexitime (their “let my people go surfing” policy), they had no dress code and their employee first attitude was almost unheard of.

“We needed to be surrounded by friends who could dress whatever way they wanted, even go barefoot. We all needed flextime to surf the waves when they were good or ski the powder after a big snowstorm or stay home and take care of a sick child. We needed to blur the distinction between work and play and family.”

In a world where business success is measured by profits and shareholder value, “Let My People Go Surfing” is a breath of fresh air. It shows that money does not have to be the driving force and that businesses can exist just to do good. It shows that you can prioritise the “right” things and still be financially sound, more than that, if you do prioritise the “right” things, success will follow.

For us, reading “Let my people go surfing” was possibly the single most important factor in our success. It shaped who we are. Our HR policies, our flat management structure, how we trust our team to make decisions for themselves were all inspired by Patagonia. Even our open plan office and our open-book policy, where we are fully transparent with all our finances to all the staff, came from them. 

However, probably most importantly, it gave us the belief that we can put our values above everything else, and if we do, success will follow. We wanted to create a company that made people happy and “Let my people go surfing” showed us it wasn’t just possible, it was the right thing to do.

As business books go, this one is a pretty easy read. His story is fascinating and the overall message he gives is inspirational. It’s got some really useful practical help too. This book is the perfect gift for any aspiring business owner or anyone who wants to just do good.

If you don’t follow Yvon Chouinard or Patagonia then we’d also recommend reading about their announcement in September where, instead of retiring and selling the company, he gifted Patagonia to a charitable trust to fight climate change!

If you’re interested in how we’ve built our happiness-first culture as well as how we’re continually challenging ourselves to make a happier company, please follow us on LinkedIn to get regular updates on our progress and if you’re curious as to how far we’d go at Secret Source to keep our team happy, check out the interview with our founder on The Karmic Capitalist podcast.