Lululemon - the phenomenally successful Vancouver-based sportswear company that turned Boogie Woogie stretch pants into the unofficial uniform for casual Fridays - fancies itself more of a lifestyle than a clothing company. Its gung-ho corporate manifesto, which is stuffed into every shopping bag, encourages customers to drink lots of fresh water, perspire, love, choose positive thoughts and do one thing a day that scares them. "Do it now!" the tract urges. "The world is changing at such a rapid rate that waiting to implement changes will leave you two steps behind."
It's no coincidence that some of the same phrases and lessons are taught by Landmark Education Corp., a controversial human-potential encounter group. Chip Wilson, the smooth operator who founded Lululemon back in 1998 and built it into a national retailing powerhouse now valued at more than $225 million, is a devoted Landmark convert. Wilson credits his success to The Landmark Forum, an intensive international 3 1/2-day training seminar. The program has garnered widespread criticism for what some see as its boot-camp techniques, hard-sell recruitment tactics, heavy reliance on free labour, secretive nature and its links to Werner Erhard, a former Scientologist who developed the methodology.
Wilson so heartily believes in the Landmark approach that it has been made mandatory for management staff to participate in the training. Lululemon picks up the tab on the $495 tuition. Legally, companies like Lululemon have the right to ask this of their employees. If employees do not want to attend, they can be terminated as long as severance is offered.