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Anita Roddick: A Tribute

There is no scientific answer for success,” said Anita Roddick. “You can’t define it. You’ve simply got to live it and do it.” In creating the wildly successful Body Shop chain of cosmetic stores, Roddick created her own definition of success. She went against the norm in choosing to operate her business in an ecologically sustainable manner, and not only achieved success, but also redefined the possibilities of what it means to be in business.

Born on October 23, 1942, in Sussex, England, Roddick (née Anita Perella) came from a hard-working family, with her parents being among the first Italian immigrants to the region. She was the third of four children to parents Gilda and Donny Perella. Her mother ran a successful café in Littlehampton, which kept the young Roddick busy for the better part of her childhood. It was, in fact, the first and only American style diner in their town at the time. Whether it was working as a waitress or cleaning up after hours, few evenings or weekends were left free for the Roddick children. In addition to teaching her a strong work ethic, it was Roddick’s mother who first introduced her to the concept and value of recycling.

When Roddick was eight years old, she was told that her father was actually Donny’s cousin, Henry, and that she was the result of an affair. Henry died from tuberculosis just two years after she learned about the news. Of the experience, Roddick wrote that she “felt as if an enormous weight of guilt had been lifted off [her] shoulders…It gave me a lot of confidence in gut feelings – taught me to trust my instincts above everything else, and stood me in very good stead when I came to open my first shop.”

Because her family had immigrated to England, Roddick claims she always felt she was different. “I was a natural outsider, and I was drawn to other outsiders and rebels,” she recalls. “James Dean was my schoolgirl idol. I also had a strong sense of moral outrage, which was awakened when I found a book about the Holocaust at the age of ten.” Initially, Roddick’s sense of moral outrage led her to become a teacher. She declined an offer from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, choosing instead to enroll in the Newton Park College of Education and Bath. Here, she studied English, History, and Aesthetics. In 1962, Roddick went on a kibbutz to Israel, which eventually turned into an extended working trip around the world.

“I traveled enormously during the 1960’s,” said Roddick, “when you measured everything by where you traveled and what you did as travelers.” She clipped newspapers for the International Herald Tribute in Paris, worked for the United Nations in Geneva and took a self-guided tour through Tahiti, Reunion, Madagascar, Mauritius, Australia, and Johannesburg. While in South Africa, Roddick disobeyed the laws of apartheid by attending a jazz club on ‘black night’ and was sent back to England.

Upon her return, Roddick’s mother introduced her to a young Scotsman by the name of Gordon Roddick, of whom Anita said, “Our bond was instant.” The two decided not only to be together in a relationship, but to go into business with each other. First, they opened up a restaurant, followed by a hotel in Littlehampton. In 1970, with one child together already and another one on the way, the pair was married. However, it would not be long before their passionate interests were taking them in uniquely different directions.

The Body Shop Becomes a Success

For the first three years of their marriage, Roddick and her husband were content running their restaurant and eight-room hotel. She dealt with the customers while he took care of the behind-the-scenes management. However, after three years, the pair found themselves overworked and separated from their children. They decided to sell their restaurant and embark on their own pursuits.

Roddick’s husband, an equally avid traveler, decided that he wanted to ride a horse from Buenos Aires, Argentina to New York City. Ever the supportive wife, Roddick agreed and stayed home to care for their two children. It was during her husband’s time away that 33-year-old Roddick decided to open up a cosmetics store. But, it wouldn’t be just any cosmetics store. Roddick wanted her operation to be natural and environmentally conscious.

In 1976, Roddick opened up her first Body Shop adjacent to a funeral home in Brighton, only ten minutes from her home, in order to be close to her children. She had used the hotel as collateral to obtain a £4,000 bank loan. Initially, Roddick limited her product line to 15 natural cosmetic products that she had manufactured in her own garage, all of which were packaged and sold in small, recyclable bottles in order to reduce costs.

The Body Shop proved so successful that soon Roddick wanted to open a second store. When she was rejected for a £3,000 loan from the bank, Roddick turned to a gas station owner named Ian McGlinn, who agreed to purchase half a share in the company. By the time her husband returned, Roddick’s chain had become so popular that more and more people had begun inquiring about franchise rights.

With little experience in franchising, Roddick decided not to charge startup or royalty fees. However, before someone could acquire the rights to open a Body Shop franchise, Roddick would personally interview all of the candidates, asking them such questions as “What is your favourite fower?” and “How would you like to die?” At the time, most of the franchises were, and continue to be operated by women.

The Body Shop franchise was based on a unique business philosophy; its goal would not be limited to profits, but would also try to encompass socially responsible principles. Roddick wanted her company to offer “a two-for-one sale no other cosmetic company could ever hope to match: buy a bottle of ‘natural’ lotion and get social justice for free.” The company also employed unique advertising techniques, such as lining the sidewalk leading into her store with Body Shop perfume and hanging potpourri.

From campaigning to save Brazilian rainforests to fighting for fairer trade rules, Roddick has dedicated her company to social activism both at home and abroad. By 2004, there were over 1,980 Body Shop stores in over 40 countries around the world. It was voted the second most trust brand in the United Kingdom and Roddick was knighted by the Queen. More recently, the Body Shop was bought out by L’Oreal. McGlinn, the gas station owner who loaned her £3,000 got £137 million, whilst Roddick gave away almost of her share of £130 million.

And her legend continues…

“Over the past decades…while many businesses have pursued what I call ‘business as usual’, I have been part of a different, smaller business movement, one that tried to put idealism back on the agenda,” said Roddick. “If I can’t do something for the public good, what the hell am I doing?”

In the early days of her company, Roddick’s social and ecological conscience was motivated more by economic cost-saving factors over anything else; recycling was encouraged because she could only afford a certain number of bottles while store walls were painted green not for environmental awareness, but rather to hide the damp stains. However, as The Body Shop franchise grew into a cosmetics powerhouse, Roddick began to realize that she could use her power to have a positive impact on the world around her.

“I hate the beauty business,” said Roddick. “It is a monster industry selling unattainable dreams. It lies. It cheats. It exploits women.” In order to find self-fulfillment in her work, Roddick was thus forced to expand her vision. “I want to work for a company that contributes to and is part of the community,” she said. “I want something not just to invest in. I want something to believe in.”

It is to this end that The Body Shop began supporting campaigns that convey positive social messages and promote change. From sponsoring Greenpeace’s lobbying efforts against dumping waste in the North Sea to supporting Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth, Roddick has worked hard to ensure that her company is about more than simply profits. “It’s about service, serving the weak and the frail, bringing the concepts of social justice into business,” said Roddick. “But actually putting them into practice is the key. They can’t be just rhetoric any more.”

Not only has she focused on recycling and refused to test her products on animals, but Roddick has also encouraged all of her franchisors and employees to promote a cause of their choice – on company time and money. Many see her moves as both anti-business and revolutionary, but Roddick said such practices have been around for years in many societies.

“All through history, there have always been movements where business was not just about the accumulation of proceeds but also for the public good,” said Roddick. “I am still looking for the modern equivalent of those Quakers who ran successful businesses, made money because they offered honest products and treated their people decently. This business creed, sadly, seems long forgotten.”

To those who question her business sense, Roddick retorts that taking care of the community in which your company draws its profit is not just about feeling good about yourself. Indeed, it makes good business sense too. “I think that more companies are now realizing its corporate reputation is at stake and what they fear mostly is consumer revolt,” she said. “If prices are not that good at the moment that’s because the bloody business is not very well run. It has nothing to do with the social agenda. We save a huge amount of money by not advertising and by not going around in Lear jets, or having obscene compensation packages like many others do.”

Indeed, with revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Roddick’s dedication “to the pursuit of social and environmental change” seems to have served her company well.

“I often get asked to talk about entrepreneurship – even by hallowed institutions like Harvard and Stanford – but I’m not all convinced it is a subject you can teach,” said Roddick. “How do you teach obsession, because more often than not it’s obsessions that drives an entrepreneur’s vision? Why would you march to a different drumbeat if you are instinctively part of the crowd?”

Before Roddick began to put in place her vision for The Body Shop, she admittedly knew little about business and had never read a book on economic theory in her life. While many saw this as the key factor that would lead to her downfall, Roddick saw this as her greatest advantage.

“If I had learned more about business ahead of time, I would have been shaped into believing that it was only about finances and quality management,” said Roddick. “There is a sort of terrorism that comes with the operations and the science of making money, but by not knowing any of that, I had an amazing freedom.”

Roddick claims that she went to the business school of life. Indeed, watching her mother work tirelessly to maintain her café, Roddick was given insight into what it takes to become a business success. When other cafes were open at 9am and closed at 5pm, Roddick’s mother opened her café for the local fisherman at dawn and didn’t close it until the last customer had wandered away. It is this passion and determination that Roddick believes cannot be taught within the walls of business schools.

“In the business school model, entrepreneurs are most at home with a balance sheet, a cashfow forecast and a business plan,” said Roddick. “They dream of profit forecasts and the day they can take the company public. You certainly must be able to wield these weapons. But these are just part of the toolbox of re-imagining the world. They are not the basic defining characteristic of entrepreneurship.”

Rather, Roddick suggests that entrepreneurs are fearless leaders who cling to their own vision of the world with a passion most others do not understand. “Potential entrepreneurs are outsiders,” she said. “They are people who imagine things as they might be, not as they are, and have the drive to change the world around them. Those are skills that business schools do not teach.”

While Roddick acknowledges that the likes of Harvard are sure to teach applicable business skills, she believes that they “will not teach you the most crucial thing of all: how to be an entrepreneur. They might also sap what entrepreneurial flair you have as they force you into the template called an MBA pass.”

Spreadsheets and financial flair are important, but the key ingredients according to Roddick – passion and imagination – are things that can never be taught. Indeed, they were the very factors behind Roddick’s success. She reached the top of the business world not in spite of her lack of business education, but because of it.

On Monday, September 10th, 2007, she suffered a serious headache, was taken to St. Richard’s Hospital, Chichester, and at 6.30pm she died from a major brain haemorrhage. Fortunately, her husband Gordon, and her children Justine and Sam, were on hand and were with her at the end. She leaves behind a legacy of innovations and entrepreneurship, of doing what she believes in, and against all odds, succeeding. Now, if only all of us SMEs can achieve half of what she did in our lifetimes – that would be a legacy worth living, and dying, for.

Changing the World One Shampoo at a Time: How The Body Shop Became a Success

“ If you do things well, do them better. Be daring, be first, be different, be just,” said Roddick – a phrase that could very well be her company motto. She has taken her £4,000 loan and turned it into a successful multi-million dollar corporation that continues to not only make popular cosmetic products but also push the boundaries of corporate social responsibility. She may no longer be the driving force behind the company, but her influence on the business world is undisputed. How did she do it?

Social Change

“If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito,” Roddick used to say. Perhaps she had too little knowledge about the business world to know that it couldn’t be done, but Roddick set out not only to meet the needs of her stakeholders, but also “to courageously ensure that our business is ecologically sustainable, meeting the needs of the present without compromising the future.” In doing so, Roddick not only turned a profit but garnered a large and dedicated following of consumers who were onside with her vision.


Roddick used her creativity and imagination to come up with both a unique product line and corporate philosophy by which to operate. She also understood the importance of cultivating this spirit throughout her company, inspiring the free thought of others around her. It was in looking at the world through a positive and creative lens that Roddick was able to see the solutions ahead.


“If you can shape your business life or your working life, you can just look at it as another extension – you just fulfll all your values as a human being in the work place,” said Roddick. “If you are an activist, you bring the activism of your life into your business, or if you love creative art, you can bring that in.” Roddick used what she knew best to inspire and inform her business – her own experiences. Whether it was working in her mother’s café as a child, or bathing along side indigenous tribes in Brazil, Roddick brought in her own past to chart her future.


“For myself, I needed to earn money, to look after the kids while my husband was traveling for two years across South America,” said Roddick. Born out of a need to stay alive, The Body Shop has been infused with a survivor mentality since “day one. It continues his trend today, making the most of every opportunity it can and remaining unsatisfed with the status quo.


“It’s not really work for me because I have no idea what work is anymore,” said Roddick. “It is so much a part of my life.” Since she was a little girl, the entrepreneurial instinct was cultivated within Roddick. The passion and determination with which she approached her business not only made up for her lack of business knowledge, but actually helped her in achieving her dreams. “I hadn’t a clue,” she recalls of her early days in business and that is what propelled her to the top.

It was while Roddick was running her first store that she learned the true nature of business: “It’s about creating a product or service so good that people will pay for it. Now 30 years on The Body Shop is a multi local business with over 2.045 stores serving over 77 million customers in 51 different markets in 25 different languages and across 12 time zones. And I haven’t a clue how we got here!”

“If I had learned more about business ahead of time, I would have been shaped into believing that it was only about finances and quality management,” said Roddick. “There is a sort of terrorism that comes with the operations and the science of making money, but by not knowing any of that, I had an amazing freedom.”

By: William Ng, Jennifer Lee and Raja Azura Raja Nazreen

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