Sad news from Europe. Dame Anita Roddick, founder of the iconic chain of stores, The Body Shop, died suddenly yesterday. She hadn’t had much to do with the store so closely associated with her name for five years or so, and had upset people with her decision to sell to L’Oreal for, reportedly, £652 million in July 2006. But Roddick was green before “sustainable” was the twinkle of a buzzword in a brand manager’s eye.
She was also a fierce and inspirational role model for businesswomen everywhere.
And while for me her name will always be accompanied by a slightly unnerving whiff of White Musk (one of the store’s earliest and most popular scents, beloved by teen girls everywhere in the 1980s), Roddick was an authentic and passionate supporter of human rights, environmentally sustainable business policies and equality in the work place. She was also a visionary, working to enhance the potential of community — both on and offline — from the very early days of her company (founded as a standalone store in Brighton, England in 1976).
Much is made of “authenticity” in brands these days, as if that’s a quality that can somehow be bought or invented or added later as an afterthought. Roddick was the real deal. She made mistakes — and owned up to them — while she never allowed an obvious injustice to pass by unscolded. The last blog post on her eponymous Web site, from September 6, detailed her happiness at Amnesty International’s adoption of a case of political prisoners within the United States.
After the jump, just a few of her provocative comments and statements, on women in the workplace (and her rather dim view of the Fortune 500), her justification for selling to L’Oreal, and her take on leadership. In the meantime, recognition of her passing is woefully lacking on the Web sites of either L’Oreal or The Body Shop’s. Come on, guys. Get with the program. Pay your respects.
October 19, 2001
I am always asked why there are so few women in the Fortune 500 companies. My answer is: Who gives a toss about the Fortune 500? It is outdated: it is a lousy standard of measuring business success; it is one of the least dynamic, most conservative bodies, and admission to it is based on rotten criteria for what we should consider business "success".
June 12, 2006
The best leaders walk their talk, are quick to jump into the ethical morass, confront tough issues head on, speak passionately about what is right and are the FIRST to question those who justify unethical behaviour in the guise of speed or good business. And your biggest tool of leadership is communication. Make it bold and enlivening and passionate. If you can't communicate, you are just not there.
So, BE BRAVE, BE BOLD and BE DIFFERENT.
March, 2006, on the decision to sell The Body Shop to L'Oreal
I have done what any founder ought to do. I have done all I can to protect the future for thousands of employees and community trade suppliers. But I am also tremendously excited about the future.
I am, of course, pathologically optimistic. But that doesn't mean I am wrong.
I do not believe that L'Oreal will compromise the ethics of The Body Shop. That is after all what they are paying for and they are too intelligent to mess with our DNA.
But it is also the way the world is going. And if it is going that way, with customers and staff alike demanding more than the misery of the bottom line, it is doing so partly because of what we – founder, staff and customers old and new – have been doing at The Body Shop all these years.
RIP, Dame Roddick.
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