A good billionaire?

Shatter my worldview, why don’t you. Here’s one billionaire who is doing the right thing — giving away all of his money (although I bet he retains a healthy sum for himself, which I wouldn’t begrudge him at all).

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard announced Wednesday that he is giving away the outdoor-apparel company — an unorthodox move intended to help combat climate change and the environmental crisis.

In a letter posted to the company’s website, Chouinard wrote that ownership of the company, which was founded in 1973 and reportedly valued at about $3 billion, has been transferred to a trust that was created to protect the company’s values and mission as well as a nonprofit organization.

“Earth is now our only shareholder,” it said. “100% of the company’s voting stock transfers to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, created to protect the company’s values; and 100% of the nonvoting stock had been given to the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature.”

Now I’m all confused and conflicted. I resolve that confusion by noting that the way to be a good billionaire is to stop being a billionaire, and to have righteous values.

“It’s been a half-century since we began our experiment in responsible business,” Chouinard, 83, said in the release. “If we have any hope of a thriving planet 50 years from now, it demands all of us doing all we can with the resources we have. As the business leader I never wanted to be, I am doing my part. Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth, we are using the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source.”

“I am dead serious about saving this planet,” he added.

All right, the gauntlet has been thrown. Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates — you don’t get to claim your goal is to do good for humanity until you follow suit.

I guess next time I’m in the market for a nice down or fleece jacket, I’ll have to shop Patagonia. I see their nearest store is in St Paul.


  1. RoughCanuk says

    There are always a few good apples in the bunch, even the uber rich. Stories of such altruism remind me of the Jains of India. When they reach a certain age and wealth they cash everything in to give away and retire to an life of quiet contemplation. I would often read of massive gatherings where the person would distribute all the money to a stadium full of people. I wonder how much better our society would be if this was common practice rather than all this passing along generational wealth.

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    Another good one:
    Eben Upton. Made a truckload of money at Broadcom, then started the Raspberry Pi phenomenon to improve computer education and access.

  3. Samuel Vimes says

    I have a few Patagonia items. I’m very happy with the quality. Their items can be a tad on the pricey side, but that’s to be expected of things that are made to last and NOT made in sweatshops.

  4. consciousness razor says

    You would probably maintain at least a shred of skepticism if it were Elon Musk* who funneled his company’s profits into tax-exempt organizations and kept his people on the board, so that they can decide what happens with all of it (rather than the public, because Musk doesn’t think democracy really matters). If it’s supposed to make any difference, Musk will also happily toss in the claim that he’s going to do something good this way (by sending people to Mars, building hyperloops, or whatever it may be).

    *Or Elon Stench as we should probably call him, childish as that may be.

  5. submoron says

    It’s a pity that they don’t live up to their stated ideals. Did Carnegie really say “the man who dies rich dies disgraced” ? On the other hand, if alll of the Christian Billionaires followed their stated ideals it might make things worse.

  6. Ed Seedhouse says

    Chouinard started out as a rock climber actually, back in the 1950’s and 60’s. He made a number of significant first ascents and found that the gear he needed wasn’t really available back then so he started to make his own and found a market among the climbers of the day. He started a company and made a lot of money from the climber and outdoor sports markets, especially when climbing “took off” in the 1980’s.

    This is all well documented but whether he is a good guy or a bad guy I leave for others to decide.

  7. Howard Brazee says

    One would think that people who believe that this world was created for us would be the biggest proponents of us being its stewards.

    But that’s not what I see.

  8. anonymous3 says

    This is actually an old trick. Much like the Gates Foundation. The grift is, you give a bunch of money to a non-profit. You then put yourself, your spouse, your children, and any other family members on the board. They then draw a salary from it, usually is the six or seven figures. Almost none of the money goes to the stated purpose of the charity. (It’s not uncommon for charities to spend <10% of their income on actual charity and instead spend most of it on staff, mostly upper level staff.) But because it’s a non-profit, your money is now shielded form taxes. This isn’t charity, it’s a tax dodge.

  9. Rahul Kedia says

    Wow really? You know it is a tax dodge for a fact ? At least do a little cursory research to check plausibility before spewing bile. Your opinion is uninformed and ignorant and useless

  10. bcw bcw says

    @ 9 I think it’s unfair to compare this to Gates, a man who has always been a predator. The formation of two foundations with the second, non-Chouinard family piece getting the bulk of the profits while the smaller part is voting stock to keep control of the company means that most of the money is designated to be dispersed.

  11. bcw bcw says

    Other comments on Patagonia – since 2002 it has donated 1% of SALES to environmental organizations.

    He also founded the company that became black diamond for climbing equipment. He first developed better climbing pitons but advocating no-trace ideas then introduced non-permanent anchors (hexes, cams and such) which didn’t damage and alter the rock surfaces, effectively supplanting his main business. He went bankrupt due to increasing liability costs but the company was bought out by the workforce and became Black Diamond.

  12. Rob Grigjanis says

    anonymous3 @9: The Holdfast Collective is classified as a 501(c)(4) organization;

    To be tax-exempt as a social welfare organization described in Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 501(c)(4), an organization must not be organized for profit and must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare. The earnings of a section 501(c)(4) organization may not inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.

  13. says

    A little googling shows that Chouinard has 2 kids who are going to be directors of the newly-formed charity shell company that is being given ownership of the business. That’s a pretty typical tax haven: directors can pay themselves 5%-10% of the value of the charity, as a “management fee.” Congress used to sometimes designate special charities as being able to allow higher directors’ benefits – for example the homeland security bill after 9/11 allowed “Johnny Spann charitable trusts” (Spann was a CIA interrogator killed in a prisoner uprising in Afghanistan) to draw up to 15%.

    The point is not that the directors will take all the $, it’s a way of making sure your frog-spawn have a regular income and can’t touch the principal and spend it all on lamborghinis and blow. Although the charity can buy a lamborghini and let the director use it, natch. The IRS made cars, residences, etc. all taxable because it was being too obviously abused.

    Rahul Kedia@#10:
    You know it is a tax dodge for a fact ?

    I do! It’s a pretty standard technique and anyone who had experience with inheritance tax law knows it.

  14. says

    Any profits such a trust makes go back into the trust, making the directors’ compensation, as a percentage, go up accordingly. That’s a standard way of hedging against inflation and keeping your kids from getting greedy and depleting the trust. In the case of such a large amount of money, it hardly matters.

    If the kids are greedy little pieces of shit they set up a shell company in Antigua or Delaware and “hire” it to do marketing outreach or something like that, then pay it $750,000 or something like that, whereupon the IRS and everyone else fairly quickly lose visibility into where the money went. That’s where the republicans’ money that their donors threw to Rump went: it got chopped up and parted out to tax shelters all over the place. Some of the fraud the Rumpies are being investigated for are large payments to things like the Mark Meadows charitable trust, which, unfortunately, is not opening its books to anyone for some reason. The Rumpies have made hundreds of millions of dollars vanish into shell corporations.

    To be fair, the Clinton foundation does the same thing. There was some reporting back around 2015 that indicated that Hillary only owns a few shell corporations but Bill owns or controls 50+, like honest hard-working people are wont to do.

  15. Rahul Kedia says

    For fucks sake look at their history . Look at their words , their actions and intent. Your assertion doesn’t track with any of it . Because something can be used in a certain way , everything that looks vaguely similar doesn’t become an identical instance . Mindlessly asserting it as fact is arrogant and lazy and stupid. You know squat. What is the matter with you ? Why such an ugly and petty take on something decent in a shitty world ?

  16. KG says

    It’s reasonable to be sceptical. It’s unreasonable to pretend you know this is a scam, without investigation.

  17. donfelipe says

    I know for a long time now Patagonia has been encouraging customer to sell or trade used, but functional clothing and equipment. It used to be a Ebay store, but now appears to be a larger program altogether:

    As far as few comments here stating certainties about which they have no facts or evidence is concerning. It’s fair game to question the ultimate outcome of things like this, or speculate on what will actually happen. Acting like you don’t even have to provide evidence while being so assured in your correctness isn’t being skeptical or cynical, it’s conspiratorial.

  18. consciousness razor says

    Bloomberg.com: Patagonia Billionaire Who Gave Up Company Skirts $700 Million Tax Hit
    “Founder Yvon Chouinard structured the transfer of his firm in a way that keeps control within the family and avoids taxes.” (also a twitter thread)

    (Insert a big old “duh” here.) That part isn’t in doubt.

    What they might actually do with this in the future is less certain. Will it be as (in-)effective at its stated goals as others like it which purport to help people or the environment? I don’t know why we ought to expect any better.

  19. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @21:

    I don’t know why we ought to expect any better.

    Not if “we” can’t be bothered to spend a little time looking at the history of the company, no. They’ve done a lot more than “purport”. But hey, playing the jaded cynic is so much easier than a bit of reading.

  20. anonymous3 says

    This is a known and rather standard tax dodge. He absolutely does not deserve the benefit of the doubt. I get that some people think you can consume your way to morality. But there’s no such thing as ethical consumption. That’s just an idea thought up by marketers to sell more goods and services but with a markup that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

    There are no good billionaires. There is no ethical consumption under capitalism.

  21. DLC says

    To offer some contrast :
    The BMGF is worth around 50 billion today. Yet, it’s founder Bill Gates is still personally worth around 106 billion USD. But strangely, he is not the richest person in the world. Just among Americans, he’s behind Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Still, there is way too much wealth concentrated at the top end of the American spectrum. We need to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Of course, many of them will duck and dodge or find ways to grift some of it back, but at least some of it will pass through the hands of the poorest Americans.

  22. says

    Some of the people here are such cynical assholes who treat their uninformed opinions as if they were facts. Here’s the truth:


    Explaining his decision to give away the company, Chouinard told the New York Times: “I was in Forbes magazine listed as a billionaire, which really, really pissed me off. I don’t have $1 billion in the bank. I don’t drive Lexuses.”

    Chouinard, who drives a beaten-up Subaru with a surfboard strapped to the roof, says he hopes giving away the company “will influence a new form of capitalism that doesn’t end up with a few rich people and a bunch of poor people”.

    He is a businessperson, but very much by accident, and finds the descriptor offensive. He once told a journalist from Outside Magazine during a multi-day climbing trip up Mount Arrowhead, in Wyoming, that he would prefer to be referred to as a “dirtbag”.

    Challenged by the reporter, who argued that you can’t be a multimillionaire and a dirtbag, Chouinard said he gave away all of this money and he doesn’t “even have a savings account”.

    “But that’s not even the point,” Chouinard continued. “Being a dirtbag is a matter of philosophy, not personal wealth. I’m an existential dirtbag.”

    Refusing to let it go, the reporter tried again saying Chouinard was a “very successful businessman” and “somewhere along the way you must have wanted to be a businessman.” Chouinard exploded back: “Never! All I ever wanted to be was a craftsman.”

  23. says

    Bloomberg.com: Patagonia Billionaire Who Gave Up Company Skirts $700 Million Tax Hit

    Hey asshole, that Bloomberg hit piece has been criticized as being highly misleading, but you of course naively and gullibly take it at face value. If someone sells something for billions and avoids paying $700 million in taxes that’s one thing, but Chouinard gave away his on-paper billions, so he has nothing to pay $700 million with. And the 2% that remained with his family was not tax sheltered–they had to pay $17 million in taxes. 98% of Chouinard’s former on-paper wealth goes to a nonprofit that is devoted to the environment. Chouinard is a genuine environmentalist and did everything he could to transform his assets to serve his principles. But hey, no good deed goes unpunished.

  24. says

    it’s founder Bill Gates is still personally worth around 106 billion USD

    And what is Yvon Chouinard’s personal worth “still”. Oh, that’s right … hardly anything.

    @anonymous3 ” I get that some people think you can consume your way to morality.”

    What the fuck are you talking about? What is Yvon Chouinard consuming by giving away his (on-paper) wealth?


    In a move that subverts the traditional ideas of how companies are run and how wealth is often distributed among the 1% in the U.S. [so much for this being a standard tax dodge], 83-year-old Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard announced this week that he and his family were redirecting their personal profits to the task of combating climate change. He has a reported net worth of $1.2 billion.

    The Chouinards are transferring their gains and voting stock to a newly established non-profit organization, Holdfast Collective, and a new trust, the Patagonia Purpose Trust, which both aim to tackle climate change. The family isn’t stepping away from the $3 billion company altogether, as they’re still making key decisions while overseeing the Patagonia Purpose Trust. [The one that only received 2% of the stock]

    “It was important to them that they were not seen as the financial beneficiaries,” Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert told The New York Times of Chouinard’s children. “They felt very strongly about it. I know it can sound flippant, but they really embody this notion that every billionaire is a policy failure.

    “We’re not just owners, or board members,” Fletcher told The New Yorker in 2016 of he and his sister working for Patagonia. He was 41 at the time, “We have normal salaries,” he continued. “We weren’t brought up to give a shit about money. Actually, I think we were raised to be slightly embarrassed about it.”

    You can disbelieve their statements and doubt their motivations, but you won’t be doing it based on facts or reason. The reality is that these people, none of whom are billionaires or anything close, are doing more good in the world than you are and are probably consuming less than you are.

  25. says

    And the 2% that remained with his family was not tax sheltered–they had to pay $17 million in taxes.

    That is, the 2% that went to the non-profit trust that they still control as directors … it’s no longer their personal wealth.

  26. F.O. says

    Adam Conover: “Why There’s No Such Thing as a Good Billionaire”

    He explains what I’ve been thinking for a while: democracy is not compatible with rich people.