The common thread between ‘The North Face’, ‘Espirit’ and ‘Pumalin Park’

It’s always fascinating to learn about the drive and the history behind the products that millions hanker after. Especially about the people who conceptualized these brands. It’s kind of  surprising though to learn of someone who people would label a “turncoat” in this context. Found such a story. In a book called Eco Barons by Pulitzer prize winning author Edward Humes. The beauty is that I think the person in question wouldn’t mind such a label at all!

Never imagined that “The North Face” and “Espirit” could be connected in any way. Though they may be totally disconnected today both companies have deeply entwined origins that they also share with a Nature Sanctuary in Chile that will open to the public on the 15th of Dec, 2010.

Image from the Internet

Image from the Internet

Image from the Internet

The common thread they all have is a pioneering individual named Douglas Tompkins. Must have been quite a metamorphosis for a person who was a white water kayaker, and a serious mountain climber and a skier with aspirations to compete in the Olympics to become the CEO of a billion-dollar global fashion empire.

That in itself is an incredible journey filled with  daring and adventure! But what he has chosen thereafter, speaks volumes of what helped him succeed in the first place in the ultra-competitive fashion world even as he turned coat on his former life. His story of passion and perseverance as he struggled to save hundreds and thousands of acres of  the world’s last intact temperate rain forests is awe-inspiring and well worth a read and more.

Here are a few things that struck me about this millionaire maverick:

  • He is a self-made millionaire who once borrowed sixty dollars from his girlfriend
  • In addition to all the exciting sports, he also dabbled in a film-making career
  • He found the mercantile world of ‘The North Face’ unacceptably mundane and realized he had made a mistake in making a business out of his main hobby.
  • He had the temerity to tell off the editor of a powerful magazine like Cosmopolitan with the words, “The Cosmo Girl doesn’t interest me. Your covers don’t look like our customers.”
  • He was less impressed by a job candidate’s experience in a specific position and more interested in reading habits, vacation plans, and ambitions.
  • He sold Espirit Germany to his friend/Employee Peter Buckley for all of  “One German Mark”
  • He believed in an “MBA” – Management By Absence 🙂  and often took vacations (How many people in the corporate world can truly do that?)
  • He launched a new public service campaign in  the Espirit catalogue urging customers to “Buy Only What You Need” from Espirit and elsewhere.
  • Even legislators can barely agree on plans for the next fiscal year, but this man had the foresight to lay plans that would mature only in the year 3000. read more about his project “Alerce 3000”.

There are several nuggets that you’ll find very intriguing and soul-satisfying as you read about his story in the book. But what struck me the most was that he fought numerous battles for almost 20 years of his life and still held on to the belief that he would be able to save the forests and create a Nature Reserve.

Would YOU fight for something you believed in for that long?

Would YOU dare to hope for something well beyond your time?

Read his story in the book “Eco Barons”.


One comment

  1. Edward Humes · May 24, 2011

    Dear Kiran,

    Thank you for the lovely review of Eco Barons. I only just became aware of it because it just popped up on CSR International via Google News. Let me know if you’d like a review copy of my new book, Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart’s Green Revolution.

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