Businesswoman, Activist and Environmentalist

I can remember getting the train into Exeter when I was a teenager for a trip to the Body Shop, it was the in vogue shop at the time, with against animal testing products, refillable containers and what felt like a ethical purchase, it also smelt amazing – I, like lots of my friends loved it.
Years later when researching for setting up my own company I read Business as Unusual by Anita Roddick, the Body Shop founder, and I was inspired. The book was unlike any other Business Book I had read and took me through Roddick’s adventures of daring to be different and sticking to her principles whatever the cost. These principles are what I believe ultimately led to her success.

Dame Anita Roddick, DBE
(23 October 1942 – 10 September 2007)

A pioneer of the natural beauty industry, Roddick amassed a personal fortune of £51 million through her cosmetics and toiletries business, making her one of England’s richest women. She began The Body Shop with the vision that all types of businesses could be run ethically and that every ingredient had a story. The company was one of the first to prohibit the use of ingredients tested on animals and one of the first to promote fair trade with third world countries.

Anita Roddick

A taste of the awards Anita Roddick has received:

  • 1984 – Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year
  • 1991 – Center for World Development Education’s World Vision Award, USA
  • 1994 – Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics, USA
  • 1994 – University of Michigan’s Annual Business Leadership Award, USA
  • 1996 – Women’s Center’s Leadership Award, USA
  • 1999 – British Environment & Media Award
  • 2003 – DBE (Dame Commander of the British Empire)

Anita Roddick’s Background

Born in Littlehampton in 1942 Anita Roddick was the child of an Italian immigrant couple who instilled in her an intense work ethic. She trained as a teacher but then took an educational opportunity on a kibbutz in Israel which eventually turned into an extended working trip around the world. Soon after she got back to England her mother introduced her to her future husband, Gordon Roddick, together they opened a restaurant and then a hotel in Littlehampton. They married in 1970 with a young child and another one on the way.

The Body Shop

Anita Roddick started the The Body Shop in 1976, to create a livelihood for her family whilst her husband was travelling. At the time she described herself as having no training or experience but a desire to do things differently.
“Running that first shop taught me business is not financial science, it’s about trading: buying and selling. It’s about creating a product or service so good that people will pay for it.
It wasn’t only economic necessity that inspired the birth of The Body Shop. My early travels had given me a wealth of experience. I had spent time in farming and fishing communities with pre-industrial peoples, and been exposed to body rituals of women from all over the world. Also the frugality that my mother exercised during the war years made me question retail conventions. Why waste a container when you can refill it? And why buy more of something than you can use? We behaved as she did in the Second World War, we reused everything, we refilled everything and we recycled all we could. The foundation of The Body Shop’s environmental activism was born out of ideas like these.
Businesses have the power to do good. That’s why The Body Shop’s Mission Statement opens with the overriding commitment, ‘To dedicate our business to the pursuit of social and environmental change.’ We use our stores and our products to help communicate human rights and environmental issues.” Anita Roddick
She opened her first shop in Brighton with just 15 productsWhen her husband returned from 10-month travels, she had opened a second store and customers were asking if they could start their own Body Shop branches. In 1993 she told Third Way Magazine:
“The original Body Shop was a series of brilliant accidents. It had a great smell, it had a funky name. It was positioned between two funeral parlours–that always caused controversy. It was incredibly sensuous. It was 1976, the year of the heat wave, so there was a lot of flesh around. We knew about storytelling then, so all the products had stories. We recycled everything, not because we were environmentally friendly, but because we didn’t have enough bottles. It was a good idea. What was unique about it, with no intent at all, no marketing nous, was that it translated across cultures, across geographical barriers and social structures. It wasn’t a sophisticated plan, it just happened like that.”
and in an interview with Startups.co.uk she said:
I shouldn’t have survived, there were only 20 products in a tiny shop, but it had amazing creativity, all because we had no money.
If I had a shed load of money, I’d have done everything wrong – marketing, focus groups, although they are more important now. A lot of entrepreneurs don’t run their business, they just find a great brand – many of them couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag! If their idea isn’t being developed by someone then they just sit on it and it never gets used… read more of the interview.

The leap from small to big business

The Body Shop arrived just as Europe was going ‘green’, I remember my decision to buy from the Body Shop was the promise of products not tested on animals and I loved the idea of refilling a container that would other wise have been thrown away, to this day the messages that The Body Shop promoted on Animal Welfare stick with me – that’s some powerful messages.
With the demand for growth Gordon Roddick came up with the idea for ‘self-financing’ so they could open more stores, which sparked the growth of The Body Shop franchise across the world. By 1978 a kiosk in Brussels became the first overseas franchise and by 1982 new shops opened at the rate of two per month.
The company went public in 1984 and at its height The Body Shop was worth £700 million.
By 1990, just one year after launching in the USA, there were 2,500 applications for a franchise. The company was now trading in 39 countries just fourteen years after opening it’s very first shop.
My background is in Systems and Change Management and I have worked for a number of growing businesses where my  job was to implement the systems, processes and team that would take the company forward. For me what was always critical was that the processes, systems and the people would work hand in hand and any changes I made needed to be thought about holistically. I have been known to “wing it” on many occasions but change needs time and full understanding. There is a great book, Change Management: Just Doing it, where the author talks about how he turned the fortunes of Sellotape UK around. I remember the example “sticking” with me of where he made changes that caused big unintended consequences because at the time he didn’t understand the process fully – worth reading.
Roddick talks about their period of huge growth, as unplanned (in which I think she meant the growth wasn,t a coordinated strategy not that the didn’t want to grow), with no systems, no marketing departments, no procedures and no organisation chart’s. I think there is something to be said for flexibility and a bit of winging it but as you grow you need to couple this with systems that support not suffocate a companies culture – a challenge but one worth taking on.
From opening one store in 1976 to floating a company in 1987 would be a feet for anyone, but for someone who was obviously creative and a free spirit this must have been a real challenge. Here Roddick talks openly about her experiences of working with Management Consultants, where she describes herself  as “losing the plot”:

Anita stepped down as chief executive in 1998 and from then on acted as a consultant.

The Body Shop – L’Oreal takeover

In March 2006 Body Shop agreed to be taken over by French cosmetics giant L’Oreal in a deal worth £652m. Its fortunes had been hit by rivals making similar products, but the Body Shop fought back and still had more than 2,000 stores in 53 countries.
At the time I can remember the sale caused controversy, because of L’Oréal’s involvement in animal testing and being part-owned by Nestlé, which has been criticised for its treatment of third world producers. I can see why the move came about but I think people felt connected to the brand and like me loved the stories that Roddick had told through the years – it was potentially the end of a chapter if not the book with the Body Shop for a lot of people.
Anita and Gordon Roddick, owned 18% of BodyShop stock and were reported to make £130m from the deal.

Anita Roddick on Women in Business

I have read lots of business books written by both men and women but Roddick’s book was one I was immediately drawn to, maybe its because I grew up seeing her brand develop and listening to the stories told through her messages. She is  a inspiring Woman who has over the years has won awards for her work supporting women in business.
In a 2001 article “Women on Top” Anita Roddick wrote:
Since I started my business, The Body Shop, in 1976, so little has changed in the corporations. Business organizations as we know them were created by men for men, often influenced by the military model. Hierarchical structures built on authority remain the same.
The only way this can be changed is for women to set up their own businesses. However, it is still far easier for a woman to go to a bank and secure a loan for a new kitchen or fitted wardrobe than it is to get them to agree to lend her money to start a business.
In every country I have traveled in the West, it is the older, larger corporations, dying of boredom, being eroded by giantism, that have lost millions of jobs. But it is the women-owned businesses that have been generating new jobs every year. My view is that these small to middle-sized companies that are becoming the backbone of any country’s economy.
Women are flooding the job market and boosting economic growth, helping to reshape the economy. They have been the linchpin in the shift toward service and away from manufacturing. Women are a strong force behind corporate innovations such as flextime, cafeteria benefit plans, and day care centers. Women have forced the humanization of the workplace.

If you start thinking big, you will be obsessed with the bigness rather than with getting that smallness brilliant.
Anita Roddick

The corporate world must take, and in many ways is already taking, notice. Women have to be listened to — they are standing up and they are shouting!
My advice to any woman thinking of running her own business is to start small and think of one thing — that you are in control of your own life. Think of it as an honorable livelihood, nothing more. If you start thinking big, you will be obsessed with the bigness rather than with getting that smallness brilliant.”
When I started my business in 2007, I found that being a woman in business gave me an edge, maybe because the industry I was working in was male orientated and even opened up grant opportunities. I even had found support with free mentoring, help with business planning and finances.

Activist and Environmental Campaigner

Aswell as running her hugely successful company Roddick was actively involved in activism and campaigning for environmental and social issues, including:

  • 1985 – Stop the dumping of toxic waste in North Sea, Greenpeace
  • 1980s – Against Animal Testing for cosmetics, collected 4 million signatures through shops
  • 1990 – Set-up project to refurbish 3 Romanian orphanages. Work extended into Albania and Bosnia
  • 1991 – Funded Unrepresented Nations and Peoples organization
  • 1993 to 98 – Ogoni Campaign against Shell and Nigeria
  • 1997 – Self-Esteem Campaign with its controversial mascot, Ruby, exposes myth of the perfect body
  • 2001 onwards –  Challenging Exxon-Mobil, World’s No 1 Global Warming Villain and campaigning for renewable energy for world’s 2 billion poorest people, Greenpeace
  • 2001 onwards – Challenging Globalization/Free Trade agenda of WTO, Trade Justice Coalition
  • 2001 onwards – Sweatshop Labor and workers’ rights in Free Trade Zones, National Labour Committee

In an opening statement in her book, Business as Unusual, she said:
“I have never believed that business was in a separate compartment from civilizing the world. That’s why I have always been an activist, an agitator and an entrepreneur rather than a conventional business leader.”
When Anita ran the Body Shop it was impossible to separate the company values from the issues that she cared about – social responsibility, respect for human rights, the environment and animal protection, and an absolute belief in Community Trade.
Footdown believes in putting people first and aligning people with the culture and values of the organisation – and Roddick did just this. She created a culture based on her values and the people around her believed in her and her values.
In 2004, Roddick was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis due to long-standing hepatitis C. After she revealed this to the media in February 2007, she promoted the work of the Hepatitis C Trust and campaigned to increase awareness of the disease. Anita Roddick continued even through her battle with health to fight for human rights and against economic initiatives and structures that abuse and ignore them.

My Thoughts

From humble beginnings, necessity and the desire to do the right thing, Anita Roddick is an inspiration.
As a Human Rights Activist and Founder of The Body Shop you just can’t help but be inspired and if not over whelmed by the achievements of one woman.

When I went into business, I didn’t think you had to leave yourself and your beliefs at the door.
Anita Roddick

Supported by her husband and inspired by her mother’s ethics she was hard working and unflinching in her beliefs.
As well as sticking to her principles, she listened to the people around her, nurtured her business and aligned the companies culture with her values.
She created a worldwide and powerful brand, followed the journey of every ingredient, had a passion for people and her products.
Even through the growth of The Body Shop her business stayed the same; a shop selling cosmetics and toiletries. Who would have thought that “bubble bath” and “moisturiser” could make such an impact on the way we buy and the way companies trade.
To close only the words of Anita Roddick can do her justice:
“The Body Shop is not, and nor was ever, a one-woman-show – it’s a global operation with thousands of people working towards common goals and sharing common values. That’s what has given it a campaigning and commercial strength and continues to set it apart from mainstream business.” Anita Roddick

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