Building impactful companies begins with a first principles approach that combines business and idealism.

Serious Business Chops and Ambitious Idealism

William R. Cockayne
2 min readFeb 19, 2021


The recent CEO of Patagonia, Rose Macario, spoke with the New York Times (Patagonia’s Former C.E.O. Retreats to the Rainforest) about her work at Patagonia and her new roles with Meati, a plant-based meat replacement, and Rivian, a potential Tesla competitor focused on the consumer truck market. Her approach to business and its inevitable impact offers a number of lessons for practitioners of long-view innovation.

Macario’s ethos is “a mix of serious business chops and ambitious idealism”. Her ‘idealism’ transcends the business goals of financial success or the accumulation of power and wealth to focus on the health of the world and humanity.

Macario goes on to describe how she applies this mindset to her actions as a CEO and adviser:

In the case of Rivian and Meati, these are companies that are built from first principles. Both of these companies are taking on some of the biggest issues that our planet faces. They’re starting with a blank sheet of paper and saying: “How do I create nutritious protein forever at an affordable price? How do I tackle carbon neutrality throughout our transportation ecosystem?”

These are really big, intractable problems that our society faces. You can’t just say, “We’re not going to do anything, because everything we do does harm.” That’s like saying we’re never going to innovate, we’re never going to try. We have to act with a sense of urgency. Time is running out. And I still think that business can be the greatest agent for positive change in the world.

The work we’ve done at Stanford to help teams to imagine, design, and deliver truly world-changing businesses emerged from the same first principles approach.

Begin with a blank whiteboard that you can gather your team around, envision a solution that makes real positive impact — financially and environmentally — building your business back plan, and begin immediately delivering on the goals or KPIs or OKRs that allow your team to measure and communicate progress.

What other companies are building with this mindset?