The Entrepreneur Behind the Body Shop
Anita Roddick could have died relatively young, but she lived a full life. In fact so full that years after her death in 2007, people still remember her as the woman who made an impact on the business world.
She was the Anita Roddick who founded The Body Shop, a cosmetics company that had its humble beginnings in the Roddicks’ kitchen. Contrary to her competitors, The Body Shop is against animal testing and its founder is one of the strongest proponents of ethical consumerism and fair trade. Her active involvement in social issues earned international acclaim. She is now referred to as Dame Anita Roddick being appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
To say that Anita Roddick is different would be an understatement. She was one-of-a-kind in the sense that she often did not follow the norm and would always do things her own way no matter how much risk was involved. She was not afraid to break the rules. Her unrelenting character absolutely contributed to her success. Anita Roddick took on a very ‘manly’ career and it takes a tough spirit to conquer the business world, even more so to earn the respect of the big players in the industry.
Anita Roddick’s Early Biography
Anita Lucia Perella, born on 23 October 1942 in a bomb shelter in Littlehampton, Sussex, was one of Gilda Perella’s four children. They were from a line of Italian immigrants. Unlike their two other sisters, Anita and her brother are not biological children of Donny Perella, the father they came to know being their mother’s first husband. Unbeknown to Anita, her mother and Donny’s first cousin had an affair.
Her mother confessed the truth to her years after she and Donny were divorced and she was already married to Anita’s biological father, Henry. Anita always felt closer to Henry and she was relieved upon knowing that she had no reason to be guilty for feeling so. It was Anita’s unique outlook in life that made the news about her mother and Henry’s illicit affair beneficial to her. She would later on insist that it made her more confident to follow her intuition.
Anita was raised in a business-oriented family. Donny and Gilda owned a café and Anita and her siblings helped the couple by running errands for them. It isn’t surprising for the young Anita then to have thought about running a business of her own someday.
Apparently, Anita was at first not geared towards putting up her own business. Her mother, hoping to influence her career by convincing her to become a teacher, urged Anita to accept her slot in the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She took heed of her mother’s advice but went to a different school. She studied English, History, and Aesthetics in the Newton Park College of Education and Bath.
Working for UN Before Becoming an Entrepreneur
Before Anita became an entrepreneur, she was first an employee in the International Herald Tribune in Paris where she did odd jobs, like clipping newspapers. As her mother once hoped, she did a short stint in teaching in England. She quit when she was offered a job in the Women’s Rights Department in the United Nations based in Geneva.
Anita’s job in the United Nations exposed her to different cultures. She got inspired to travel and discover the world. Settling down was far from her mind. She only wanted to have children, hence was only looking for a ‘sperm donor’. Gordon Roddick, a poet and a traveler, was introduced by her mother to Anita. Needless to say, they easily hit it off. He changed her mind about getting married.
Anita Becomes a Mother to Two Daughters
Luckily, Anita found a very supportive partner in Gordon. Her husband is believed to be the brains behind her business-oriented decision makings. Anita and Gordon already have a daughter, Justine, when they got married in 1971. That time, Anita was pregnant with Sam, their second daughter.
Upon marrying Gordon, Anita ventured into business with her husband. Together, they put up an eight-room hotel and a restaurant called Paddington 66 Café in Littlehampton. The couple was hands-on owners and the business took its toll on their marriage and family life. They decided to close down the business as they saw that it wasn’t the kind of thing they wanted to do for the rest of their lives. Innately adventurous and a traveler herself, Anita supported Gordon’s intention to go horseback riding all the way from Buenos Aires, Argentina across New York City.
He would be gone for approximately two years and Anita didn’t want to just sit around and wait for his return. Besides, Anita was left with her two girls to feed. At 33 years old, she wanted a career where she is her own boss without sacrificing the time she intended to spend with her daughters.
The Body Shop was Born in 1976
Lacking sufficient capital, she applied for a business loan of 6,500 pounds using their defunct restaurant as collateral. Being a jet-setter, she saw the need for products to be available in retail sizes. When she opened her cosmetic store in 1976, she started with only fifteen products to sell. She packaged them in five different sizes, creating an impression that they are selling a lot of products. That humble store situated between two funeral homes became what we now call The Body Shop.
Without environmental innuendoes in mind, she painted her shop green to ensure that damp patches are covered. Their resorting to recycled containers was brought about by lack of capital. Recycling was necessary that time and was not a deliberate choice. The Body Shop would later on be known as a key player in the organic trade. This affiliated Anita with environmental groups, such as Greenpeace. The Body Shop products’ labels were even handwritten. Hands-on owner in the truest sense of the word – that’s what Anita Roddick was.
In six months’ time, Anita saw The Body Shop’s potential. She wanted to branch out but lacked funds. Already showing a knack for business, she thought of having Ian McGlinn, a gas station owner, shoulder half of the expenses in return of giving him half the ownership in the business. Still quite unsure of this, she sought her absentee husband’s advice. However, not having heard of him, she went ahead with her decision. Gordon’s response to her letter arrived way too late and he failed to talk Anita out of her decision.
Ten months after he was gone, Gordon came home from his horseback riding adventure in 1977. He was so impressed with the business his wife started that he decided to join her. The Body Shop quickly gained popularity and many business people wanted to put up their own branch. Gordon was said to be the mastermind behind The Body Shop franchise before franchising became a byword in business.
Anita’s Entrepreneur Skills and Leadership Style Make Body Shop Profitable
From a mere idea concocted by a visionary in her kitchen, The Body Shop is now one of the most prolific cosmetic shops around the world. Anita Roddick managed to market The Body Shop without resorting to advertising in order to create hype. She wanted to do honest business. No false hopes, no deceptions, no fallacies. She wanted her business to be known for its products’ effectiveness. True enough, The Body Shop soon became the talk of the town.
Her travels to various third world countries made her appreciate different cultures’ way of caring for their bodies. With experience and exposure to boot, she undertook the unfamiliar path of introducing naturally-based products in the market. This idea wouldn’t sell if Anita Roddick was not the person behind it. She was driven by compassion and a passionate Anita is just unstoppable.
Establishing her own turf in business, she eventually saw the dark side of the cosmetics industry. Animals are used to experiment products on. She became an adamant protester against the use of animal for the purposes of testing. In spite of her flourishing business, Anita Roddick did not compromise her values and principles in exchange of profit. Up to now, The Body Shop still carries products made of natural ingredients from third world countries, such as Ghana.
Anita Becomes a Dame
In 2003, she is already internationally famous. Queen Elizabeth accorded her the Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire title. She was also very popular among environmental and animal activists because of her stand against very common yet unethical business practices.
2004 was the toughest year for her. She was diagnosed to have cirrhosis of the liver brought about by Hepatitis C which she contracted via blood transfusion when Sam, her second daughter, was born.
Now, did this slow her down? Anita Roddick was not easy to intimidate.
Supporting Hepatitis C Trust
Rather than sulk, she became an active supporter of Hepatitis C Trust in 2007 that promotes awareness in blood testing to avoid accidentally being infected by life-threatening diseases.
She went through another ordeal when her name was dragged into controversy when L’Oreal bought her company at 625 million pounds in March 2006. Being so vocal about her stand in keeping The Body Shop cosmetics natural and organic, her credibility was questioned when she agreed to the sale. It was a valid concern since L’Oreal obviously did not adhere to anti-animal testing campaigns she so adamantly upheld.
Net Worth Nil as her Money Goes to Charity
In the midst of all this, Anita Roddick was resolute. She saw the opportunity to become an even bigger influence by becoming a part of a larger industry player in cosmetics. Asked what convinced her to sell, she explained:
"Can you look at harvesting ingredients that are grown naturally? You need purchasing programmes and to have a dialogue in the most honourable way with the most fragile and poorest communities you are working with. You have to ask them if you can purchase from them and under what conditions and how much you would have to pay as a social premium… This has always been the language of The Body Shop and this is the bit that makes me want to sing with joy - this is also what L'Oréal wants to embrace."
Anita Roddick died a happy entrepreneur on 10 September 2007. She was 65 and she gladly left her 51 million pounds fortune to charity.
- 1976 - Founded The Body Shop
- 1985 - London's Businesswoman of the Year
- 1984 - Awarded the Veuve Clicquot Businesses Woman of the Year
- 1988 - Communicator of the Year and Retailer of the Year
- 1988 - Became Officer of the Order of the British Empire or OBE
- 1990 - Founded the Children On The Edge or COTE
- 1991 - Center for World Development Education's World Vision Award, USA
- 1991 - Received The Financial Evening Standard Outstanding Entrepreneur Analysis Award
- 1992 - Received the National Association of Women Business Owners (US) Business Leader of Year
- 1993 - one of the 5 Richest Women in England
- 1993 - Banksia Foundation's Australia Environmental Award
- 1993 - Mexican Environmental Achiever Award
- 1993 - National Audubon Society Medal, USA
- 1994 - Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics, USA
- 1994 - University of Michigan's Annual Business Leadership Award, USA
- 1994 - Received the Daily Express/Moet & Chandon Business Award
- 1995 - Women's Business Development Center's First Annual Woman Power Award, USA
- 1996 - Women's Center's Leadership Award, USA
- 1996 - The Gleitsman Foundation's Award of Achievement, USA
- 1996 - Received the Institute of Charitable Fundraising Managers (UK), Philanthropist of the Year
- 1997 - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Honouree, Eyes on the Environment
- 1998 - Received the Marketing Retail Design Award
- 1999 - British Environment & Media Award
- 1999 - Chief Wiper-Away of Ogoni Tears, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, Nigeria
- 2001 - International Peace Prayer Day Organisation's Woman of Peace
- 2003 - Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE)
- 2005 - Shell liveWIRE survey of inspirational role models, third place after 1) Richard Branson 2) Friends/family 3) Anita Roddick 4) James Dyson 5) Sahar Hashemi
- 2006 - Spirit of the Rainforest Award, Rainforest Action Network
- 2010 - 5th among the Top 10 British Business Figures
- United Nations' "Global 500" environmental award
- UK Ambassador for British Business
- Received Lifetime Achievement Award from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
- 1988: Honorary Doctorate, University of Sussex, United Kingdom
- 1999: Doctor of Laws, University of Bath, United Kingdom
- 2004: Honorary Doctorate of Public Service, The Sage Colleges, United States of America
Organisations and Campaigns supported
- The Big Issue
- Children on the Edge
- Hepatitis C Trust
- Demos think tank's advisory council
- Little Hampton Community School
- International Labour Office [United Nations - Women's Rights Department
- Anita Roddick Foundation
- The Save-The-Whales Campaign
- Amnesty International
- The Rain-forest Activists Survival Internations
- Friends of the Earth
- AIDS awareness
- No to animal testing
- "Stop the Burn" Campaign to save the Brazilian rainforests
- "Trade not Aid" Campaign