Chip Wilson — Building Lululemon, the Art of Setting Goals, and the 10 Great Decisions of Your Life (#514)

Artist's rendering of Chip Wilson
Illustration via 99designs

“An entrepreneur is someone who’s just too incompetent to work for anyone else.”

— Chip Wilson

Chip Wilson (@chipYVR) is a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist. His career in the apparel industry began in 1979 as founder and CEO of Westbeach Snowboarding Ltd. In 1998, after selling Westbeach in 1997, he founded lululemon athletica inc., creating an entirely new category of technical apparel called “athleisure” — now a $400 billion global industry.

Through his holding company and family office, Chip focuses his interests on apparel, real estate, private equity, passive investments, and philanthropy. Chip and his wife Shannon’s passion for design led to the creation of the internationally recognized KPU Wilson School of Design in 2018.

In 2019, the Wilsons partnered with Anta Sports to buy Amer Sports, which includes brands such as Arc’teryx, Salomon, and Wilson Sporting Goods. Chip currently sits on Amer’s board of directors.

The 2021 edition of his business memoir, The Story of lululemon, is available for free at chipwilson.com/book. Last but not least, Chip is steadfast in his pursuit to cure facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD). He is on the board of Facio Therapies and has begun his latest big 2021 project, Cure FSHD.

Please enjoy!

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You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#514: Chip Wilson — Building Lululemon, the Art of Setting Goals, and the 10 Great Decisions of Your Life
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This episode is brought to you by Laird SuperfoodFounded by big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton and volleyball champion Gabby Reece, Laird Superfood promises to deliver high-impact fuel to help you get through your busiest days. Laird Superfood offers a line of plant-based products designed to optimize your daily rituals from sunrise to sunset.

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

Want to hear an episode with another entrepreneurial mastermind and empire builder? Have a listen to my conversation with SoulCycle co-founder Julie Rice, in which we discuss fostering positive company culture, innovating in the crowded fitness space, resisting outside investment early on, a brilliant marketing experiment with an unexpectedly bountiful ROI, rolling with the consequences of bad decisions, and much more.

#372: Julie Rice — Co-Founding SoulCycle, Taming Anxiety, and Mastering Difficult Conversations
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SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Chip Wilson:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn

SHOW NOTES

  • What is “YVR,” where has Chip called home, and what was his upbringing like? [07:02]
  • How did Chip end up working as “the highest-paid 18-year-old laborer” in Alaska, and what were the perils of crossing the US-Canada border when the Vietnam War was still a fresh memory? [11:30]
  • What is Chip’s theory about the age of 43? (Which happens to be my age at the time of this interview.) How long would we like to live, and what are we doing to increase our chances? [14:45]
  • If Chip considers spending time in Alaska as one of his top three life decisions, what was the next one? [21:01]
  • How did Chip commit to the goal of owning his own business by age 30, and what changed his career trajectory from flush-with-cash pipeline worker to apparel tycoon? [23:19]
  • What goals did Chip have beyond this first goal, and did he make them? What mindset about failure — and not setting goals based on past experiences — really helped him stay the course? [28:19]
  • What goals is Chip most proud of achieving — and maybe not achieving, but from which he learned the most valuable lessons? [31:45]
  • Why did Chip make the transition from clothes for surfing to skating to snowboarding and yoga (along with some failures in mountain biking and beach volleyball) to eventually what would become lululemon? [37:05]
  • What were some alternative names for what could have been lululemon, and how did lululemon come out on top? [41:19]
  • What were Chip’s expectations or hopes for lululemon in the beginning? [46:12]
  • To save money on insurance, did Chip really sleep in a tent in his store? How long did this go on, and did he ever have to thwart any would-be invaders? [48:22]
  • What was the required reading for Chip’s transformational curriculum? [49:52]
  • Why does Chip recommend The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, and what is the constraint theory of production? [51:56]
  • A few other book recommendations. [53:38]
  • How did conversations around the transformational, goal-setting curriculum take place, and why were employees actually encouraged to quit? Were these goals shared among employees for the sake of accountability? [55:17]
  • What does Chip consider to be the Landmark program’s strengths and weaknesses? [58:53]
  • Does Chip think any other companies do a good job of employee development? Why does he think more companies don’t have a development curriculum? [1:03:40]
  • Chip explains how linguistic abstraction can be used to grow a global company and its culture by the benefit of quick communication. [1:04:36]
  • What is a brand (and what is a brand not)? [1:06:52]
  • Design strategies at the retail level Chip used to drive sales, and how understanding the needs of the customers he was serving streamlined the process. [1:10:42]
  • More elaboration on linguistic abstractions. [1:14:36]
  • Why does Chip have these linguistic abstractions displayed on his bathroom wall? [1:18:53]
  • While authenticity is important, does Chip have any regrets about times when being himself and speaking his mind have gotten him in trouble in business or the court of public opinion? [1:19:55]
  • How has Chip developed the seemingly uncanny ability to see five years into the future? [1:26:04]
  • Why does Chip ask prospective hires if they want families, and how would he sometimes decide — within a minute of meeting someone in his neighborhood — that they’d be a good fit for his company? How did such hires tend to turn out? [1:30:32]
  • What would Chip’s billboard say? [1:34:40]
  • Why is Catch-22 one of Chip’s most gifted books? What other books does he customarily give to people? [1:37:45]
  • Favorite restaurants in Vancouver? [1:40:22]
  • How people can get the 2021 edition of Chip’s book The Story of lululemon (previously published as Little Black Stretchy Pants). [1:42:18]
  • Chip’s ask of the audience. [1:42:50]
  • Favorite audiobooks and podcasts. [1:44:05]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:47:12]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

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21 Replies to “Chip Wilson — Building Lululemon, the Art of Setting Goals, and the 10 Great Decisions of Your Life (#514)”

  1. Chip Wilson doesn’t like hiring women who don’t want to have children….they “scare” him. Well you know what scares me!? old white guys thinking that it is still socially acceptable to comment on a woman’s right to do what she wants with her body in 2021. WTF?! Im so sick of looking at the new podcasts episodes and seeing another old white dude. This guy has had enough air time. How about highlighting some BIPOC voices?!

    1. Confusing your right to do what “you want” with an employer’s right to hire whom he wants does not help discourse of either subject.

      1. I’ve checked a few sources, and believe I have my facts straight on questions you’re allowed in an interview. Even taking legality off the table…had he come out with that statement publicly, while heading up Lululemon, it would have been an expensive media disaster. That’s a pretty large segment of his market to alienate, call scary, and say he won’t work with.

        Don’t get me wrong…he has other positive qualities. I’m glad I listened. Tim did give us a disclaimer right from the start, so I was forewarned.

      2. Media “disasters” — such as you predict, Sheila — might not affect, at all, market acceptance of a product or service, particularly in the long-term.

        Furthermore, the law of unintended consequences applies here, IMO. Laws and regulations affect some aspects of some behaviour, sometimes, but not all aspects of all behaviour. Undoubtedly laws reduce the probability that a potential employer will NOT directly explore certain aspects of the future plans of a possible employee, but an astute individual, in my experience, will glean information and form an opinion. That opinion will influence decision-making. NOTHING in law or HR policies can prevent those behaviour.

        Until science and human nature change the fundamental roles of men and women in gestation and child-rearing — everything else being equal — more uncertainty is associated with a female candidate that with a male candidate. Far better, IMO, for all concerned, is to get all the info on the table.

    2. I agree, Tamara — and, Tim, you can do better. I was so disappointed to see Chip being featured on this podcast. He has a long history of mysogyny and hate speech. The lululemon brand has still not recovered from his fat shaming rehetoric (hence the rise of other, more inclusive brands). Time to elevate your game, Tim, and start looking at more inclusive voices in the business world.

    3. Why don’t you go read Fast Company (almost 95% of content is about women or minorities) or watch the news or read the thousands of articles on female entrepreneurship out there and/or other podcasts that feature women prominently? For the record, Tim also has plenty of women on his show. Tired of seeing this jammed down everyone’s throats that white men are bad. Not everything will or should cater to your outlook. I happen to not even agree with Chip’s comment btw.

    4. Agree that remark jumped out ‘what?’ ‘Did I hear that right’ relistened and yes he did say that – Tim can you get him to explain this view ?

  2. Hey Tim
    Love your 5 bullet fri
    We think you and your gf would really love our Toe Spacers (www.thetoespacer.com). Would love to send you both some to try and if you like them then discuss being featured in 5bf. Currently we have many top crossfit athletes, NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball players using them and loving them.
    Cheers
    Mick Baker
    Your buddy from opening the kimono

  3. Hey Tim, I guess this might not even reach you… but l just wanted to suggest Michael Levin as a fascinating researcher and as such someone who l think would be fantastic for your podcast! Here is a really nice article about him:

    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/05/10/persuading-the-body-to-regenerate-its-limbs

    His research is mind boggling and he seems to have a very interesting personality!

    I‘d be so excited if you would interview him!

    Btw thanks a lot for your work and being curious and inspirational! You are a great gift to the world! 😊 take care!

    Katherina

  4. China a bastion of Free Entreprise? Let’s ask Jack Ma his opinion about that. If we can find him…

    1. I love your podcast Tim but struggled with this comment. A bastion of free enterprise doesn’t steal or force the transfer of intellectual property. A bastion of free enterprise does not commit genocide. The US needs to wake up. I agree we are going left but we have a long way to go until we are like China.

  5. Tim, this is in response to 5 bullet Friday RE your girlfriend being on a low FODMAP diet. I’m and eating psychology & intuitive eating coach and some of my clients have had great results controlling their IBS symptoms with the Nerva app. It was also developed in Monash University (same as low FODMAP). It’s hypnosis for IBS and it’s fabulous w no food restrictions.

  6. Judging from the comments on your blog, I am not the first person to call this out, but I wanted to share my thoughts. Here are a few things you should know about me: I am a woman and an entrepreneur. I have done yoga for 20+ years, and am a fan of Lululemon. I own a fashion company that I founded in 2004 which is still growing even in today’s climate. I founded a nonprofit for people experiencing homelessness, The Laundry Truck LA. Generally, I think your interviews are great, and all these things made the Chip Wilson interview, to me, very compelling. I was listening on my drive back home from Palm Springs this weekend and had a lot of great takeaways. Then I switched over to this episode of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday—Dr. Shefali Tsabary: A Radical Awakening. I also knew nothing about her (same as my knowledge of Chip Wilson). This interview was so powerful and illuminating in so many ways. My intention is not to compare the interviews. Instead, it’s to express that it was through Dr. Tsabary’s original and thoughtful ideas that I saw how destructive some of the comments were that I had just heard. In fact, it was right in the middle of listening to her that I realized what I had actually just heard. Did I just spend almost two hours listening to a man talk about how he only liked to hire women who wanted to procreate? In retrospect, that interview sounded like something from a good ol boys club. I would like to consider myself ‘awake’ to most things, however I somehow just glossed right over him saying those comments. I needed, and am thankful for, the powerful female voice that spoke up right after as if to say, this is wrong!

    You have a GIANT platform. Use it to empower women. People and statements like this can be easily justified because he did so much to support women. But this clearly shows he believes it’s men’s place to dictate what we do.

  7. Tim – Yet again, the work that you do is bringing life changing value to the world.

    There are so many things that I would like to touch on in this episode, but there isn’t enough time or space in this comment, so I will touch on a single point, “Do it now. Do it right fucking now.” This phrase, combined with the story (as stories hold great power), kicked me in the gut (as if a very large animal had a bad day).

    I’ve been working on my social anxiety (At one point I couldn’t go grocery shopping when the house was out of food. I also have been trying to post a comment on an episode since late August, and even more so since your trauma episode #464; I am just now mustering the courage and setting aside my extremely high expectations of myself to overcome my phobia). As part of the social anxiety, I have a part of me that protects me from the fear, procrastination. After I began practicing a little IFS, from what I gathered from the episode with Richard Schwartz #492, research and experience, and what felt right when the event transpired (an amazing experience I’ll have to share another time. The only thing that I will say about it is…life changing.), I started to have a better understanding of how my procrastination tries to protect me by causing the avoidance of social situation (talking, shopping, driving, phone calls, texts, emails, etc…). In these times, I sit down with that procrastination part of myself to ask what’s wrong. That part of me is often over vigilant, and requires a lot of sit downs.

    The only way to overcome my social anxiety is to face it in all of its forms. Taking action on things that I procrastinate on gives me more control and reduces anxiety. It’s been a very long road just to get to this point, and I won’t be stopping here. Next time I’m putting off something for my small loose leaf herbal tea company [Moderator: company name redacted.], I’ll just let those wise words ring in my ears, “Do it now. Do it right fucking now.” (Slightly weird note, I am also teaching my thought-form familiar, DAHE, the phrase to use when I need some encouragement. DAHE, pronounced “day”, is Everything Has A Deadline backwards. He is in the image of the Grim Reaper and helps me keep time and energy in perspective. Might make me sound a little crazy, but it’s a visionary technique that I’ve been using to lend assistance where I’m lacking. It’s similar to the “Invisible Counselors” that Napoleon Hill talks about in Think and Grow Rick.)

    I can’t thank you enough for every thing you do. There are no words to truly express the gratitude that I have for what you provide the world. I will repay you for at least a portion of what you do, and continue to seek a way to provide value to you. One day, I hope that I will have the privilege of meeting you in person (You are number one on my people to meet list. Also, I would gladly take the Molly test; please say hi to your pup for me.), but I need to be able to provide enough value so that you say “Hey, I would like to meet this Ben guy.”

    Eternal gratitude, my friend.

    Until next time,

    Ben Osborn

  8. I have commented to let you know what a terrific experience my daughter enjoyed reading through your web page. She had noticed a wide variety of pieces, with the inclusion of what it is like to have an awesome helping style to have the rest without hassle grasp some grueling matters.

  9. I liked your question “what does brand mean to you?” but the response from Chip departed a bit from that question. It’s helpful to think of brand as a little space in the consumer’s brain that a producer of any consumer goods producer RENTS. They don’t own it forever, but via product quality, fit, lifestyle affirmation, projected image, price to value, service etc,, they’ve earned that spot in your brain such that when you think of a need (e.g. yoga pants, toothpaste) you seek that brand first to satisfy whatever need you have a buyer. It’s a fragile rental, and can vanish as quickly as it was earned.

  10. I enjoyed the conversation with Chip. As someone with FSHD, I was waiting to hear him discuss his experiences with the disease and his plan to help find a treatment and cure, as mentioned in the show notes. Is there a reason it wasn’t brought up in the interview?

  11. I very much enjoyed this interview with Chip Wilson. I liked hearing him speak his mind. He showed in this interview how flexible he has been with his business plans, adjusting to outside conditions quickly as many business owners failed to do.

  12. Cringed a bit when I saw Chip Wilson as a guest but, as a Vancouverite, you know I had to listen! But also, I can appreciate that you don’t need to like someone to learn from them. Great job Tim, and team, for navigating this terrain!

    Anyways! I’m here to answer something *very* important that Chip didn’t: where to eat in Vancouver. I wasn’t surprised to hear him recommend Nelson the Seagull, you can often spot Chip there. I’m more of an expert on coffee & donuts, something Vancouver is rich with, though I don’t think Tim is much of a fan of. The most Vancouver thing you can do though is rent a kayak in Deep Cove and get yourself some Honey’s donuts.

    For anyone reading this that doesn’t know Vancouver, we have arguably the best food in the country. So some dining recs: [NOTE: I got a little carried away…]

    The Acorn for impressive, locally sourced vegetarian on laid back Main Street

    Nemesis (Great Northern Way) to get schooled on coffee and eat boujee croissants in probably the coolest building in the city.

    Brunch: Livia for the an aperol spritz with your farm-fresh iIalian brunch. Ubuntu for a stick-to-your bones neighbourhood staple.

    We know you want to get your Japanese food and Vancouver doesn’t disappoint: Stem Japanese, Masayoshi, Yuwa

    Via Tevere for the best pizza in the city or Pizza Grano for their vegan sister – both great for date night

    Maenam, Mak n Ming, Pidgin, Phnom Pehn, or Ugly Dumpling for some asian/pan asian

    Cioppini’s is a classic, but Autostrada, Savio Volpe or Ask for Luigi never disappoint for Italian.

    Coolest rooftop patios: Vij’s for Indian & Joe Fortes for a seafood and wonderful wine list.

    Ancora for some waterfront seafood. Boulevard for oysters and wagyu beef.

    Dynasty for the best Chinese cuisine.

    Botanist for some instagrammable dining. Mackenzie Room for 16 courses of hipster brilliance.

    So much good ramen in this city – Marutama or Ramen Danbo is great.

    Breweries galore… too many to mention and you can’t go wrong with any. Superflux is a current fave serving mostly IPAs. Alibi Room for the best selection.

    Mr. Bannock for Canadian (yes! it exists) food. Get yourself some DownLow chicken (though I feel like Austin might have us beat in the fried chicken category).

    Skip the Whistler trip and go to Tofino instead for some surfing or storm watching in cabins on the beach, and some real good food. Charter a local flight there for some cool views.

    I’ll stop while I’m way ahead.

    Oh yeah, and don’t forget pot is legal here…