Thursday, 30 March 2023

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Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert’s best career advice: Ask these 2 questions

Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert's best career advice: Ask these 2 questions

Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert is the first to admit that he’s “the last person anybody should ask career advice,” he said in conversation with Katie Couric at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, recently.

He describes himself growing up as a skateboarder in Cocoa Beach, Fla., surrounded by people focused on their passions: surfing professionally, opening surf businesses, or bartending to cover bills and spending their free time surfing. Gellert didn’t share the interest but made it his mission to find his passion and make it his life’s work.

Over time, Gellert managed to go from being unsure about his future, to packing boxes in a warehouse, to becoming CEO of a $3 billion brand and one of the most prominent businesses fighting climate change.

His best career advice: Ask yourself these 2 questions

Gellert says he wasn’t sure what kind of career he wanted for himself but studied finance in college and later earned a business degree at the Florida Institute of Technology. He moved to Salt Lake City and got into skiing, then one day dropped off his resume with Black Diamond, a climbing equipment company based there.

When he got a phone call a week later, Gellert was “convinced” that as an MBA holder, they’d line him up with a corporate job. “And they said, ‘No, we’d love to offer you $6 an hour to come pack boxes in the warehouse.’ And I thought about it long and hard. And in the end I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.'”

As Gellert sees it, “the only consistent thing in my career is, I’ve always asked myself about the next opportunity in front of me: Does this look interesting? Is this tied to what I’m really passionate about?”

He was passionate about the outdoors, particularly rock climbing, and figured that by staying with Black Diamond, he could learn on the job and work his way up the corporate chain. Gellert ended up staying with the company, built its presence in Asia, took it public and was the brand president before he left for Patagonia in 2014.

What he learned from Patagonia’s founder

Gellert became Patagonia’s CEO in 2020 in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and racial justice protests erupting around the country. He recalls his first in-person meetings with Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard a few months into his new role.

Gellert describes Chouinard as both principled and entrepreneurial, “which, to be clear, can drive you absolutely mad when you’re trying to run a big global, complex organization, but it’s so inspiring.”

“If he gets an idea,”…

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