An unofficial qualification to become chief executive of Patagonia seems to be an interest in extreme sports, a strong meditation practice or both. The previous C.E.O. practiced Tibetan Buddhism. The one before that was a ski bum who liked to meditate. Yvon Chouinard, the company’s eccentric founder, was a mountain-climbing Zen Buddhist.
So when Ryan Gellert was named C.E.O. of Patagonia in September 2020, his pedigree was hardly surprising. Mr. Gellert is an avid mountaineer and skier who has spent his career at outdoor retailers, including Black Diamond. Though he is not a Buddhist, he has a decades-long track record of social and environmental activism, making him well suited to lead one of the most politically engaged corporations in the country. And with a business degree from the Florida Institute of Technology and a law degree from the University of Utah, he rose to become head of Patagonia’s operations in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Mr. Gellert took over in a moment of turmoil. Patagonia was one of the first U.S. retailers to shut its stores at the onset of the pandemic, leading to major furloughs and some layoffs at the company, which prides itself on taking care of its workers. Rose Marcario, the company’s C.E.O., abruptly resigned last summer without naming a successor. And in the midst of a global health crisis that shut down so much of the world, Patagonia’s environmental activism sputtered.
Now, more than a year into his tenure, Mr. Gellert seems to be settling in to his role leading a private company with a big public profile. Patagonia’s business has recovered from the shutdown, though it is now contending with supply chain issues, and annual sales are on track to exceed $1 billion. The company, which donates 1 percent of its sales to environmental groups, has ramped up its activism and went so far as to pull its products from a mountain resort that hosted a fund-raiser for a conservative group. And Mr. Gellert has begun calling out other companies, saying there is “a special place in hell” for those not combating climate change.
While that all might amount to distractions at other companies, they are signs that, for Patagonia at least, things are getting back to normal.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
A lot of people in this industry find their way into it from the mountains. Did you grow up outdoors, climbing or …….