Doug Tompkins

Both Doug and Kris got started as outdoor adventurers and entrepreneurs. Mountaineering expeditions in the Andes and Himalayas, first descents of challenging rivers, putting up new routes in the Sierras . . . these experiences in wild places profoundly shaped their worldview. Protecting what wilderness remains and encouraging future generations to experience wild nature seems a natural payback. As businesspeople, they created unconventional companies—The North Face, Esprit, and Patagonia—that epitomized their values: deep environmental ethics, dynamic workplace cultures, strong brand identities, well-designed products, and a willingness to try new ideas. These entrepreneurial backgrounds inform their approach to conservation.

Doug grew up in Millbrook, New York but headed west at 17 to ski race and climb. In 1964, he founded The North Face to make and sell outdoor equipment. A few years later, he headed south on a road trip to Patagonia to climb Mt. Fitzroy, surfing, skiing, and climbing along the way, an adventure documented in the filmMountain of Storms. Upon returning, he co-founded Esprit clothing company with his first wife, Susie. Under their leadership, Esprit grew into a multinational company with over $1 billion in sales. In the late 1980s, he became increasingly interested in environmental activism (and disenchanted with promoting a consumer culture), leading him to sell his share of Esprit. He created the Foundation for Deep Ecology, and soon afterwards moved to south Chile to focus on conservation.

Kris was born and raised on a ranch in southern California, except for a three-year stint in Venezuela. At age 15, she met and befriended rock climbing legend and equipment manufacturer Yvon Chouinard; he gave her a summer job working for Chouinard Equipment, his climbing gear company. After finishing college in Idaho, where she ski-raced competitively, she started to work full time for what then became Patagonia, Inc. During her 20 years as CEO, Kris helped Yvon build Patagonia into a renowned “anti-corporation” and a leader in the outdoor apparel industry. Recognizing that manufacturing inherently causes pollution, Patagonia became a model of corporate responsibility, mitigating its ecological impacts and educating its customers about threats to the Earth. In 1993, Kris retired from Patagonia, married Doug, and moved to south Chile.

Many people ask why Doug and Kris choose to live and work in South America. Doug first came to Chile in 1961 to ski race; he returned numerous times in the following decades, gaining experience of the country’s wildest rivers and mountains. As he left the business world and looked around the planet for conservation opportunities, Chile stood out as a place with big potential. South Chile had growing threats to its wild character from forestry, mining, hydro dams, and industrial aquaculture. When Kris visited Patagonia, she fell in love with its vast grasslands, diverse landscapes, and bountiful wildlife.

For most of the 1990s, Doug and Kris focused on creating Pumalín Park, a public-access 800,000-acre nature reserve in the south of Chile’s Lakes Region. In 1997, conservation colleagues in Argentina introduced them to the biodiversity-rich Iberá wetlands in northeastern Argentina. While its subtropical, humid climate differed from Pumalín’s, its vibrant biodiversity made it an equally appealing opportunity to conserve critical habitat. In 2000, Kris founded Conservacion Patagonica to create national parks in Patagonia, the southernmost region of Chile and Argentina.