Entrepreneur's Hall of Fame: Anita Roddick
(23 October 1942 – 10 September 2007)
Anita Roddick is founder of the The Body Shop, a company with over 1000 retail outlets in over 40 countries. She is one of the true champions for corporate responsibility throughout the world. In the early years of The Body Shop during the late 70's, many thought of Anita as another hold-over from the 60's liberal era, a flake.
She views business in the greater context of a world that should respect nature, animals, people, and employees. Business has a profound influence upon social and community economics and to a greater extent, the balance of life. Ironically, ideas of Roddick's dismissed in the 70's were championed in many of the world's top educational institutions in the 80's and 90's.
When you step into The Body Shop, you know immediately you are not in an ordinary store. You'll likely find blue corn cleansers and banana putty sandwiched between artwork and posters depicting a variety of world causes such as endangered species, orphans, and other social and environmental issues. You can even recycle your plastics for a rebate. Anita has supported non-profits and environmentalists including Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Friends of Earth and many others. The stores pride themselves on being "arenas of education".
In 1976 in Brighton, England with 12,000 pounds to her credit, Anita Roddick a 33 year-old housewife opened a store to support herself and 2 children. Her husband meanwhile pursued a life-long passion to ride a horse from Brazil to New York. Fortunate to have traveled much of the world, she found wonderful yet natural ways to clean, refresh and maintain our bodies. She researched the practices of Santa Ana Pueblo Indians, Polynesians, Amazons and other far reaching peoples around the globe to manufacture nature's health and beauty aids. The Body Shop philosophy of "Trade not Aid" takes The Body Shop to small villages where locals employ themselves squeezing oils from nuts and weaving plants into sponges.
Roddick is a true pioneer. She faced tremendous opposition from the outset in 1976 in England. The mortician establishments were appalled at the very name - The Body Shop. A 1992 documentary falsely attacked her stand on animal testing (Roddick fought back and won a libel suit for more than $400,000 in damages). She has been faulted for being a celebrity spokesperson for American Express while such company used fur coats in marketing campaigns.
Her recipe for business growth was very good and she prospered around the world. She did not charge franchise fees. Rather, the company earned profits of wholesaling the products the stores sell. In 1994, Anita realized that the company was beginning to stagnate and that she needed to bring in professional managers. The old regime over the years had been spending too much time on environmental issues and lost focus on the business itself. The new regime proved very frustrating for Anita as getting new products to market became a pile of red tape. The company at last count offers over 400 products.
In 1998 Anita stepped down from the chief executive position as part of a fundamental shake-up of the company. She shares the role of co-chairman with her husband Gordon.
"I think a lot of us would have slit out wrists if we ever thought we'd be part of corporate America or England. Big Business was alien to me. What I wanted to do was create a livelihood, and I think women are quite good at that - probably better than blokes. We mush up an interest and a skill, and that's a livelihood". - Inc Magazine - April 2001
"An effective woman entrepreneur is a combination of a crazy person with a delinquent mind".
"If you think you're too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito"
"...years ago (1988) when I lectured at Harvard about social responsibility, it was like I had just walked off the bloody moon. Now I have hundreds of letters saying 'Tell us more about socially responsible companies'"
"Why aren't these corporations doing their share?"
Thoughts told to Fortune Magazine on a restructure for The Body Shop:
"We've gone through a period of squashing one hell of a lot of the entrepreneurial spirit"
-just the reason for planning how and when to get out of a business!
"We're having to grow up, we have to get methods and processes in, and the result of that is a hierarchy that comes in, and I think it's anti-productive"
Key thoughts for entrepreneurs
Anita Roddick is certainly a great entrepreneur. She built a company on the wide reaching thought of businesses and people being socially responsible. Her mission is to provide learning and promote action. From a business perspective, it was a wonderful means to build a business and for Anita, the only way to live her life. But once the business is built, it needs to grow, it's needs to be managed and it needs to react to changing markets, preferences and competition. In many ways Anita Roddick became a "political figure" and the business did suffer (it was the largest retailer in Britain). It is the very rare entrepreneur that can grow a business from start-up to hundreds of millions. It is the rarest entrepreneur, such as Bill Gates, that can manage and continue to grow the business.
While she does not (yet) hold office, it is clear that she is an entrepreneur on a mission. Everything that embodies her exploits involves education and change. You might say that is opinion (which it is) and easy to say as she is a prime beneficiary. But, she does walk the talk driving a Volkswagen diesel (thought to be more environmentally friendly for increased gas mileage and emissions). She once tried to buy back outstanding shares and take the company private with a goal of diverting the profits to a non-profit for social efforts. Unfortunately her attempt failed.
Love her or hate her, it takes an incredibly influential and dedicated person to mobilize people to take a company from a single store to a major retailer as well as take on large-scale causes especially when they impact so many lives. Her "trade not aid" has invaluable consequences for nations and people around the world. But that is what entrepreneurs do! Entrepreneurs make change. When we look back in history many of the great achievers were thought of as "nuts" until well after death. People scoff at things they don't know, can't understand, or believe will make change (ask a few people if they can program a VCR for example). Most people are risk and change averse.
Entrepreneurs handle adversity and see it as a challenge.
Books written by or about Anita Roddick:
Business as Unusual by Anita Roddick
Anita! : The Woman Behind the Body Shop by Jules Older
Getting to the Better Future: A Matter of Conscious Choosing by John E. Renesch, Anita Roddick.
The Stakeholder Corporation: The Body Shop : Blueprint for Maximizing Stakeholder Value by David Wheeler
Uncommon Knowledge by Anita Roddick
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