Starting a tech company these days can be challenging. With so much competition, there is constant pressure to deliver innovative ideas and improve on existing technology. In that kind of frenzied environment, some otherwise principled individuals might lose sight of their ideals in the quest for success. In fact, some would argue that people have to separate their own ethical standards from their business mindset if they want to succeed in this kind of competitive industry.
Not so, says Yvon Chouinard, founder of outdoor apparel purveyor Patagonia. In his latest book, The Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned from Patagonia’s First 40 Years, Chouinard chronicles his experiences at the helm of the company that Fortune magazine named the coolest company in the world in 2007. In his climb to the top of his own industry, Chouinard never compromised his passion for the environment and other social causes he held dear. In fact, he integrated those interests into his business model and watched as his company’s name became synonymous with activism.
Although Chouinard works in retail, the concepts he addresses can apply to any industry. In particular, the book’s series of checklists provide great inspiration for any startup tech company hoping to maintain a sense of integrity in a cutthroat business environment.
Checklist #1 Business Health
Ensuring a company’s financial integrity is the focus of Checklist #1. To do that, Chouinard recommends implementing a system of checks and balances to keep tabs on management. For example, he encourages companies to name at least one outside party to its board of directors. That board, along with this objective member, should be responsible for determining compensation rates for all employees, including the boss. Not only is Chouinard concerned with avoiding the appearance of impropriety, Checklist #1 is aimed at actually keeping the company’s financial practices on the up and up.
Checklist #2 Workers
If Checklist #2 came with a subheading, it might read something like: “A company is only as good as the workers it employs.” Chouinard recognizes that the best talent in any industry will likely be attracted to the companies offering the highest rates of compensation, so he urges employers to pay close attention to what competitors are paying. If a company isn’t able or willing to pay employees at or above market rate, Chouinard warns that it should be prepared for a mass exodus of its finest workers. On the other hand, Checklist #2 isn’t completely focused on monetary compensation. Instead, Chouinard recognizes the importance of ensuring that employees have the best working experience possible and that the conditions of their workplace leave them feeling appreciated and satisfied.
Checklist #3 Customers
Americans can be very particular when it comes to technology. Whether it be their phones, their gadgets, their games, or their ability to connect online, people demand quality products and excellent service. However, Chouinard doesn’t think those are unreasonable expectations, and Checklist #3 suggests that companies in all industries should take great care to ensure that they’re producing superior products and providing exceptional service. In addition, Chouinard’s passion for the environment and sustainability is infused in Checklist #3. He encourages companies to make their products multifunctional, monitor their environmental impact, and donate old or unused products and materials rather than throwing them away.
Checklist #4 Community
Becoming an active member of the community is Chouinard’s focus in Checklist #4. Although financial success may be the main objective of your business, recognizing your place in the community and your responsibility as a member of it is important. As a tech guru, you have many options when trying to engage in the community. You could contribute your skills in web design to a charity. You could donate gadgets for an auction to benefit an important cause. Or you could just offer your time and volunteer.
Checklist #5 Nature
Whether intended or not, many aspects of the tech industry are compatible with Chouinard’s commitment to protecting the environment and eliminating waste. For example, online shopping helps individuals reduce their carbon footprint. However, Chouinard would suggest that we strive for even more. Therefore, monitor your company’s practices and assess whether you could alter your business model to reduce environmental impact. Chouinard would appreciate such efforts; Checklist #5 is by far the longest and most comprehensive part of his series of checklists.
Although at first glance it might seem that people in the tech industry have little in common with those like Yvon Chouinard who sell products intended for outdoor recreation, Chouinard’s book reveals the common ground in all industries and suggests that we all have a commitment to being responsible leaders.
Note: This article was written by Brent Hardy, vice president of Extra Space. Hardy is responsible for all corporate construction & facilities management. He writes about corporate sustainable practices at blog.extraspace.com/category/sustainability.