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“He taught me that risks are essential, and sometimes even fun”

“He taught me that risks are essential, and sometimes even fun”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/ Simone Golob

Jaap Bos inspired by Yvon Chouinard

Thinking outside the box’, it is a popular cliché, but some people really do it. According to Jaap Bos, professor of Banking and Financethe American Yvon Chouinard, owner of the outdoor brand Patagonia, is one of those people.

Jaap Bos has three reasons for admiring Yvon Chouinard (1938), whose company produces outdoor clothing and equipment for hiking, climbing and camping. “Firstly he shows that you do not always need to be strategic. My drawback is game theory, where you think highly strategically: you don’t just take into account what the other person is thinking, but also the possibility that he knows that you know what his next move will be. I am not good at that as a scientist or as a person. When Chouinard believes in something, he doesn’t take into account how others will influence the success of that idea at all. I also try to listen to my own conscience and not to be constantly wondering what others are thinking.”

Bos’ second reason is the way in which Chouinard chooses not to follow the beaten track. “He shows you a different way. When employees in his shop in Boston got headaches because of the chemicals on the clothes, he decided to change over to biological cotton completely within three years. Everyone protested that he would never manage that, but he succeeded. These days, many companies are trying to be sustainable businesses, but they already did so thirty years ago. Chouinard, by the way, refers to it as being responsible in business, as he believes that truly sustainable does not exist: you always damage more than you give back to the environment.”

Another example is underwear from recycled PET bottles. Initially it didn’t sell at all, people thought it was weird. “So they removed the box and put elastic bands around the underwear and put them in baskets – initially to make the packaging more environmentally friendly. But in doing so, people were able to feel the material and realise that it was soft. Then they bought the products.”

Finally Bos learned from Chouinard that risks are essential and sometimes even fun. “In The Netherlands we tend to expel risk as much as possible. We do not deal well with uncertainty. Chouinard feels that adventure only starts when everything goes wrong. Also, he doesn’t try to control everything. He doesn’t have a mobile telephone. He goes on holiday for two months every year, where he cannot be reached. He trusts his employees.”

For years Bos gave Chouinard's book Let my people go surfing to new PhD candidates. “In the book, he says ‘If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions: this sucks. I’m going to do my own thing.’ That is also what we try to do at the department of Finance. Not to immediately think of the rules. Think first about what you want, later on you can see how it fits.”

Bos met Chouinard once, at the airport in Frankfurt. “I saw a man walking past with a beautiful backpack. When I took a better look, mainly because of the backpack, I recognised Chouinard. I didn’t speak to him. If you haven’t got something sensible to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all. I was on my way back from America and I was suffering from jetlag. There were times when I thought we could work together with Patagonia; there are plenty of businesses that ask us for advice. Then again, they don’t need us at all.”

This is a series in which researchers talk about the person who inspired them most

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