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The Region

Patagonia Is a Winner With Moms

Business: For the 13th year, Working Mother magazine puts the Ventura-based clothing maker on its list of 100 best companies.

September 30, 2002|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Patagonia has done it again.

Months after being named one of the best companies to work for in America by Fortune magazine, the Ventura-based outdoor clothing maker has been awarded a similar honor by Working Mother magazine.

For the 13th year, the publication, in its September issue, placed Patagonia on its annual list of the 100 best companies for working mothers, citing the company's on-site child-care center, generous parental leave policy and flexible work schedules that allow parents to tend to family needs.

The New York-based magazine also cited Patagonia's commitment to the advancement of its female work force, noting that women comprise half of the company's executive pool and make up more than half of its top money earn- ers.

"It really covers all the bases," Working Mother Editor-In-Chief Jill Kirschenbaum said of the mom-friendly manufacturer.

"Patagonia is a very progressive company, so it should not come as any surprise that the company would continue to make our list."

Patagonia was one of only eight California companies--and the only one in Ventura County--to make the Working Mother list, which debuted 17 years ago.

The company, which has 1,000 employees worldwide and last year rang up sales of $220 million, has long been recognized for its willingness to blur the lines between work and home life.

Patagonia provides flexible work schedules and gives new mothers and fathers two months paid leave. It offers yoga classes and surf lessons and encourages workers, when the waves are good, to grab their boards and head for the water.

Since 1984, it also has offered low-cost, on-site child care to its workers, a spinoff of the days when Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and other pioneer employees would bring their children to work with them.

Today, the child-care center serves nearly 100 youngsters, from infants to school-age children.

"It's actually a wonderful reward of working here," said Santa Barbara resident Julie Ringler, Patagonia's vice president for production.

Her 4-year-old son, Jackson Powell, has been in the day-care program since he was 4 months old.

When she returned to work, Ringler said company leaders made it easy for her to nurse her newborn son and visit with him as often as she wanted.

That connection continues today, as Ringler routinely visits the boy on the playground, joins him for a snack and lunch and brings him up to her office to spend quality time.

"I'm not sure I could have come back to work if I didn't have this option available to me," Ringler said. "It's pretty amazing that a company would do this."

Patagonia Chief Executive Michael Crooke said such programs are not only good for parents, they make good business sense.

By helping balance work and family life, Crooke said Patagonia wins the loyalty of valuable employees, creating an environment where workers perform their best and are eager to see the company succeed.

"Helping all our employees with work-life balance is a critical component of our success," said Crooke, who has guided the company for three years.

This kind of national recognition is nothing new.

Earlier this year, Fortune magazine named Patagonia one of the 100 best companies to work for in America, citing the clothing maker as a shining example of corporate excellence in times of recession and layoffs.

The company has made Fortune's list each of the five years it has been published, ranking 41st this year.

This year's Working Mother honorees were noted for their refusal to roll back benefits during these times of recession and for an increased emphasis, especially in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, on flexible scheduling and use of family leave for its employees.

Crooke said it's nice to receive such notice, but it's not what drives Patagonia.

"It's not like we just started these programs last year to get on someone's list," he said.

"It goes back to the idea that Patagonia is not just this product or that product; Patagonia is a community of people woven together just like our clothing," Crooke said.

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