Name: Michael Crooke
Role/Function: Co-Founder & Chairman
What He’s Currently Working On: We are just now launching WAYB, a company I co-founded with old friends Tio and I.S. Jung. The Jung family built many outdoor products for me over the years while I led outdoor brands and when they approached me with the idea to solve design problems for family gear, I was totally in. Except for one thing, I pushed us to make sustainability a key lens for all business decisions. Just don’t call us sustainable yet, that’s a long journey.
The first product we’re launching is the WAYB Pico—a lightweight travel car seat made of aerospace-grade aluminum. It’s a go-anywhere car seat that’ll let parents keep up an adventurous lifestyle. We focused on aluminum instead of plastic and a high-performance mesh instead of the standard foam that’s stuffed with nasty fire retardant chemicals. Aluminum is a heck of a lot better for the earth than a lot of common materials in baby gear (plastic and foam). For starters, it’s very abundant and easily adaptable. It’s famous for its recyclability. Some estimates reckon that 70-75% of all aluminum ever produced is still in use! Material selection is our first big decision in aiming to make sustainable products.
My day job is as a professor at the University of Oregon where I am also the director of the Advanced Strategy and Leadership Certificate in the Oregon MBA program. I teach Advanced Strategy—the last class MBA students take before they graduate. The thesis is that eventual C-Suite leaders must understand finance, sustainability, entrepreneurial thinking, and how to continually make a great product or service. Without an understanding of these four elements it is difficult, if not impossible, to disrupt and create a long-term sustainable advantage.
1. What was the “aha” moment that sparked your interest in social impact?
I became a Navy SEAL as a teenager, so you could say I had an early call to serve the community. It’s where I really learned about teamwork. My first job in the business world was working with a 120-year old company that practiced sustainable logging, and I saw how new ownership and the subsequent loss of focus on the company’s core values led to decay. The new owners destroyed the land, and then quickly went out of business themselves. They took a whole town down with them when they went bankrupt. At that point, I decided to go get my MBA to figure out what happened. It’s at that point that I realized there’s a much smarter way to do business than being fueled by short-term greed. Great companies use long-term thinking and strategy.
2. How did you break into the social impact space?
I gravitated towards companies that had strong values and found myself in various leadership roles across the outdoor industry. Of course, in this space there’s much more dialogue about conservation, including resourcefulness. The next step was figuring out how to bring that mentality to business operations. In 1999, Patagonia brought me on as CEO.
Quality was articulated through their Ironclad Guarantee, and Patagonia’s commitment to the environment was clear in their early use of organic cotton and revitalization of 1% for the Planet. The focus turned Patagonia’s customers into fanatics and buoyed the business. The values were actually the secret sauce that lowered customer acquisition cost.
3. What most excites you about social impact these days?
I think a lot about how to set up the next generation for success. Part of that is making sure people find teams and companies where they are a fit, where they can work with “flow”.
You look at the people we’ve pulled together to build this company, the pillars of this company. We have people from Honest Company, Disney, GOOD, Patagonia, PrAna. It’s a group of people who have worked with companies where values matter.
By having values up front, we attract talent that's connected to a bigger purpose. And by having a "could we" culture, we give everyone agency. This creates high levels of trust and autonomy—a connection to higher purpose.
With WAYB, I like to say we are on a path to sustainability. No company is truly sustainable. There’s waste in any company. The bottom line is we have to stay transparent. And transparency means that we have to say what we aren’t, as well as what we are. And there’s a lot of things that we aren’t. We still drive cars to work every day. There’s waste in every single aspect of what we do. But we’re trying to get better, every single day. And that journey is something we want to share with our customers.
"3 Questions With" spotlights fascinating people working across the social impact space. It is published by Reconsidered and shared in our newsletter which goes out to 1,700+ subscribers every other week.