Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business
 

editorial

a brilliant blend of social activism and entrepreneurship

October 2007

Some pioneers die unsung. Not Anita Roddick. The most remarkable thing about the reaction to her death was the focus not on what she did, but what she began.

There are many campaigners in her generation, and many successful entrepreneurs. None of them combined the two roles with such élan. When she sold The Body Shop, the chain she had built up from hippy-ish beginnings in Brighton in the mid 1970s, to L’Oreal last year for £652million ($1.3billion), Anita stayed on as a consultant, saying she hoped to be a Trojan Horse, influencing one of the world’s largest cosmetics companies for the better. In truth, she had pushed a wooden horse deep into the world of business decades before. Others had seen the potential for social activism as a means of appealing to consumers, but she was the first to take a company to the public markets on the proposition. She lived to see her legacy – not just in the extraordinarily rapid rise of small-scale entrepreneurs in fair trade and other ethical product areas, but among household names too. Asda and Tesco both now offer organic hair and skincare products, for example. In the investment community she made enemies; but overall she made the City more aware.

Along with a campaigner’s passion, Anita also had an extraordinarily good eye for the detail of merchandise. Among marketers, her ability to spot what was wrong with the look of a product and how to put it right was legendary. The Body Shop’s rise only began to falter when larger retailers such as Boots, recognizing that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, reproduced the look and feel of The Body Shop products and packaging.

Today her influence is visible right along the value chain. At each stage, from ingredient sourcing through manufacture, marketing and point of sale, The Body Shop broke new ground. The company’s first non-financial report showed this, and was a turning point in corporate non-financial reporting (see page nine).

As a successful company with deeply held values, The Body Shop attracted a number of talented executives who over the decades have disseminated and developed her ideas in other businesses all over the world. They will continue to do so. This diaspora is the least visible, but most enduring of her legacies. They are the soldiers who spilled from the belly of her wooden horse.

Anita did more than blur the line between social activism and entrepreneurship. She showed that social, environmental and business concerns are not separate, but inextricably linked.



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