Anita Roddick in Full Flight

Her story is well known. Anita Roddick is to women in business, what Richard Branson is to men. Unorthodox, entrepreneurial, famous, good-looking and yes, rich.
The cosmetics company she founded 26 years ago spans the globe. Its 1900 stores cover 50 markets and The Body Shop today, on average, sells product every 0.4 seconds. The brand is nearly everybody’s darling. In 1999 the Customers Association voted The Body Shop the second most trusted brand in the United Kingdom. According to the 1997 Interbrand survey criteria, the company was named the 28th top brand in the world (second in the retail sector), and in 1998 survey of international chief executives in The Financial Times The Body Shop was ranked the 27th most respected company in the world.

And founder and co-chair Roddick is not short on personal accolades either. Since 1984 when she picked up the Veuve Clicquot Businesswomen of the Year Award she’s won plethora of leadership awards not to mention being endowed with nine honorary degrees and variety of other non-Body Shop accolades.

Yet despite being made an official ambassador for British Business in 2001, the launch of Roddick’s latest new book is unlikely to win her many new fans in much of the business world.

Her new book Take it Personally: How Globalisation Affects You and Powerful Ways to Challenge It seems to be the very antithesis of neo-liberal free market economics so popular and well practised here and in other western economies.

Roddick knows this. She asks me why Management magazine didn’t turn up to the launch of her last book, the much more business aligned Business as Unusual. I concede I don’t know.

Roddick jokingly suggests title for this story: “Management by Falling Apart at the Seams.” It encapsulates the way she feels about the way many businesses are run in contemporary society. So how does she reconcile writing an anti-globalisation book with her role as CEO of global organisation? She simply doesn’t believe she personally, or her company, has benefited in any way from the liberalisation of trade that has come from WTO initiatives.

And while she says she has no problem with trade or globalisation per se or as concept, what she is opposed to are the policies of the US Treasury, the WTO (and by proxy the World Bank and the IMF) as well as multinational corporations that she believes try to ensure that trade is managed according to their own rules.

“Take the recent tariffs that America just put on steel,” she offers. “Acts like that show that the whole concept of free trade as promulgated by these countries and organisations is sham. I think the global economy is great if it’s fair, if it’s not unfettered, if it’s just and sustainable, and isn’t conspiracy of the rich against the poor.”

Contrary to popular economic thought, Roddick does not believe protectionism impedes the flow of goods between markets. When The Body Shop first moved into France all its product was returned to England because the invoices weren’t written in French. “I like that sort of protectionism,” she claims.

Why? Because Roddick thinks diversity plays key role in her world vision. Protectionism, such as that adopted by the French, ensures that diversity survives.

But really, how different is The Body Shop from other multinational companies? For start, says Roddick, the company is significantly involved in local communities and is prepared to get political and talk about big issues in countries where it does business. “No company in the world campaigns at the level we do, or turns their shops into action stations or challenges the role of business like we do.”

She also sees difference in the way The Body Shop commits to buying goods for its products from local producers rather than on commodity markets.

And then of course The Body Shop has maintained close alliances with NGOs such as Greenpeace for most of its political life and Roddick sees them as key allies for her business. “If there is one bit of advice I can give [managers] it is to start bringing the NGOs onto your board, because they have an antennae for what is really happening and they are off the radar screen. They, more than anybody, are the ethical watchdogs.”
Business has become increasingly interested in Roddick and The Body Shop’s approach to ethical management. She concedes the question she is most often asked is: do profitability and ethical business practice mix? Her response: “It’s absolutely right that [business] be profitable, that you clean up the mess you make, that you open up another 90 or 100 shops year, and that you can give back to your community. It can be done.”

Roddick quotes the Quakers who were, she says, “brilliant at business” and simultaneously housed their workers, built schools and invested heavily in their communities. By comparison, business today is concerned with maximising profits for the few, and she is not very complimentary about the few. “Largely it’s for an executive of very nomadic executive chiefs, that within drop of hat will leave you for the highest bidder somewhere else and even if they screw up they still get the reward.”

Just over 50 percent of The Body Shop is privately owned by Roddick and “sleeping” partner. The remaining shares are publicly held. “Our investors come because they want to get good return and we always pay great dividends. And they like it, because we’re personable.”

When it comes to implementing an agenda on corporate social responsibility, Roddick doesn’t think business has made much ground. The progress that has been made has generally been under duress rather than through any willingness of major corporations to make themselves more accountable to stakeholders. Business, she says, is the most powerful institution in the world today and she believes that it must change.

A perceived lack of action by business in putting talk about CSR into action inspired her to write her latest book. That and being tear-gassed at the World Trade Organisation protests in Seattle in 1999.
The book itself is not, she admits, guide for how to better manage business. It’s an activist’s handbook filled to the brim with vivid images of what Roddick argues is the unseen and seldom talked of side of globalisation.

The book contains short essays from scientists, business people, heads of NGOs and journalists speaking on range of subjects under five key headings: Activism, People, Development, Environment and Money.

Who, does Roddick think, will buy the book? “Kids, students, I don’t think economists.” And managers? “I don’t think so. They don’t (yet) see these as their issues. It was mostly designed for people who have yearning for the truth and reality of the global economy, because it’s religion, ‘let the market rule, whatever the market wants’, but the market doesn’t have heart, it hasn’t got memory.”

Roddick thinks New Zealand’s eagerness for free trade is sign of our “poverty of imagination”. It would be better, she says, if New Zealand aimed to be country that was culturally defined, safe, protected its resource rich environment and educated its children in “brilliant and creative way”.

“When people are leaving countries like America in droves because they cannot stand the system, and they look at safe havens like this country, it should be challenge and shame to kow-tow down to the big bully tactics of the market economy as expressed by the American [driven] WTO.”

So what does the Roddick-way business manager and business world look like?

Without pause Roddick launches into verbal tirade. In her world the manager is brilliant communicator – “communication is the single most important tool of leadership”. They are non-hierarchical and find creative and ingenious ways to get ideas across – “and by the time they are exhausted by saying the same thing, they will know that that is just about the same time that people have understood the message”.

Verbal bulli

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