Roddick, Anita Lucia

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Roddick, Anita Lucia

The Body Shop


Anita Roddick is one of the wealthiest women in Great Britain, but this is a honor bestowed on her almost unwillingly. As founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Body Shop franchise, specializing in all natural skin and hair care products, Roddick has revolutionized the retail beauty industry by following her own gut instinct. She has also consistently rejected established thinking that assumes that a company's primary goal is to make as much profit as possible. In turn, millions of consumers have affirmed their belief in the Body Shop's unique array of products at the cash register. By the mid—1990s, her empire amassed annual sales of $910 million, and a slew of imitators, none nearly as successful, stood as a testimonial to her vision.

Personal Life

Roddick was born in England in 1942, but her parents were immigrants from Italy. Her mother, Gilda de Vita, ran a cafe in Littlehampton on the Sussex coast, with Donny Perella, the man Roddick assumed was father to herself and her three siblings. However, when she was eight, her mother left her unhappy marriage to Donny Perella and married his brother, Henry, with whom she had carried on a clandestine romance for some time. Anita and her younger brother were actually Henry's children, although she did not learn this until she was 18. Tragically, Henry Perella died of tuberculosis less than two years after the marriage, leaving Gilda and her children to run the cafe on their own. Anything but posh, it catered to a clientele of local fishermen, and Anita put in her share of hours as a child. "Our house had a powerful work ethic and no leisure at all," Roddick told Jules Older for Vermont Business Magazine. "We never took a holiday."

The Perella family also had an Italian Roman Catholic heritage, which was rather unusual in a quaint British seaside town and marked them distinctly as foreigners. Her classmates, Roddick would later tell Time writer Philip Elmer-Dewitt, had "never smelled garlic before we came." She also experienced anxieties inspired by her religious education, the most notable being a fear of falling asleep at night; in her youthful mind, she was afraid she might not wake up. While this anxiety passed when she became an adult, Roddick has said that the joy and energy she felt upon waking up each morning has stayed with her throughout life, and she credits this with fueling her much remarked upon tirelessness.

Roddick was a good student and retreated from her chores to read or study. She dreamed of becoming an actress, but her traditional-minded mother discouraged this. So Roddick turned down an acceptance to Guildhall School of Music and Drama and instead enrolled in Newton Park College of Education in Bath, England. There she studied English and history, and trained to become a teacher. Her college studies also included a jaunt to Israel on a scholarship, where she worked on a kibbutz. She was ejected when she and a bearded colleague played a practical joke that had him appearing to "walk on water."

Wanderlust had already infected Roddick, and from the kibbutz she went hitchhiking through Israel. After finishing school, she taught history and English for a time but felt tied down. She moved to Paris, where she worked in the library of an English-language newspaper, then traveled through Greece and Switzerland. In Geneva, she was hired (even though she could not type and had limited secretarial skills) by the International Labor Organization (ILO), affiliated with the United Nations. Eventually, the Women's Rights Department post gave Roddick an opportunity to travel, and in doing so she met women from around the world. Many of them had wonderful skin, and Roddick always inquired about what kind of products they used.

In time, Roddick saved enough money from the ILO to travel solo and undertook a long trek that landed her in Tahiti, Australia, Madagascar, Mauritius, and South Africa, among other countries. She returned to England after she was kicked out of South Africa for attending a nightclub on a "blacks only" night, in violation of that country's strict apartheid laws at the time. When she returned to England, her mother introduced her to a fellow wanderer, Gordon Roddick, a Scot who wrote poetry. Shortly thereafter, the two were married and had two daughters. In the early 1970s they owned a restaurant and small hotel.

Career Details

The restaurant and hotel business left the Roddicks exhausted after three years. Gordon announced that he wished to fulfill a lifelong dream: to ride a horse from Buenos Aires, Argentina to New York, which only one other person had ever done. Far from being upset, the young wife and mother was pragmatic: "I have always admired people who follow their beliefs and passions," she would later write in her 1991 autobiography, Body and Soul: Profits with Principals—The Amazing Success Story of Anita Roddick and the Body Shop. "It was impossible to be resentful." He would be gone for two years; if Roddick opened a store of her own, she could earn a living and spend time with her daughters in the evening. So she sold the restaurant, and gave that money to her husband to finance his trip. She then used the hotel money as collateral for a $6,500 bank loan that launched her idea: a cosmetics store with bath and body products made from natural ingredients, inspired by what she had gleaned from her world travels.

Roddick hired an herbalist from the phone book to concoct her lotions and soaps, and found a location on a counterculture, artsy street in Brighton. She opened her "Body Shop" in the spring of 1976, and the store was immediately successful. The goods were packaged in plastic bottles bought from a medical supply store, and her products offered no miracle promises other than to clean and protect. There were oils that customers could pick to scent their products, which was much cheaper than offering a variety of pre-scented products. The store also encouraged recycling by offering a discount on bottles brought back for refills. Roddick trailed perfume on the streets to lure pedestrians toward her green-and-black store. Her first Body Shop was such a success that she opened the second one a few months later with money borrowed from a local mechanic, Ian McGlinn, who became owner of half of the company.

Gordon Roddick came home a year early, in spring of 1977, after his horse took a fatal fall in the Andes. By this time there was a huge demand to purchase a franchise in The Body Shop, and he took over the business end of the partnership. The management of his wife's brilliant concept would yield a global presence in only a decade. By 1978, The Body Shop had opened in Sweden and Greece, and were becoming ubiquitous throughout England. Roddick credits her mother with helping her through these years by baby-sitting her daughters before she sent them off to boarding school.

Chronology: Anita Lucia Roddick

1942: Born.

1962: Earned teaching degree.

1970: Married Gordon Roddick.

1976: Opened first Body Shop in Brighton, England.

1984: Company went public in stock offering.

1988: Knighted, Order of the British Empire.

1988: Opened first store in the United States.

1990: Created the Body Shop Foundation.

1992: Cofounder of Businesses for Social Responsibility.

In 1984, the Roddicks decided to heed the advice of the financial world and take their company public in an initial stock offering. This change would help them to shed a somewhat bohemian image that brought image problems, such as landlords reluctance to rent them space. It would also give Roddick the chance to offer her employees and franchisees a stake in the fortune. There also was simply the thrill of going public in the 1980s; as she later told Andrew Davidson in an interview for Management Today, it "was a sexy thing to do at the time . . . . When you have a crazy idea that should never have existed, all you want to do is push it to see how far it will go. It was a huge barometer of reassurance and a way of getting more money. It was like growing up."

But the move would bring its own demons into Roddick's life, and conflict with many of her beliefs. After one day of trading, the stock nearly doubled in price, which made the Roddicks quite rich, at least on paper. "The accolades were so bizarre," she recalled in the interview with Time's Elmer-Dewitt. "Because what they're patting you on the back for is how much money you are worth . . . . It was then that [Gordon and I] decided that we wouldn't sell out, that we would put up obstacles to thinking like a large corporation." That attitude did not stop the stock's climb: over the next decade, shares would rise 9,500 percent. By 1996 there were 1,200 Body Shop stores around the globe, and it had become the most successful international retail business ever sprung from British soil. According to Hoover's Online in 1998 The Body Shop Incorporated a U.S. (subsidiary of The Body Shop International) has about 290 owned and franchised stores in the United States. The management of the of The Body Shop Incorporated has been turned over to the Bellamy Retail Group.

Social and Economic Impact

Many have followed in Roddick's footsteps, but none with as much conviction or success. Early on, Roddick was one of the most important voices in the campaign against the testing of products on animals by the cosmetics industry. She greatly publicized the practice, and also rallied others to oppose it. Now many other beauty products also trumpet the fact that their products are not tested on animals. From the start, Body Shop store windows, instead of showing their own wares, instead gave space over to posters from the environmental-action group Greenpeace. There still are in-store displays and leaflets that publicize a variety of causes not generally covered by the mass media. In 1986 Roddick launched the company's Environmental Projects Department, which, among other tasks, commissions "environmental audits" to make sure that Body Shop products or policies are not adversely affecting the environment, customers, or their trading partners.

The Body Shop has tried to focus on long-term good rather than short-term profits. One example of this was its decision to build a soap factory in an impoverished area of Glasgow, Scotland in 1988, even though its operation actually would cost the company 30 percent more. Yet it provided jobs and stability to a forgotten section of the city, which fit in with the Body Shop mission. The "Trade Not Aid" program is another example of Roddick's business philosophy, imparted in her 1991 book Body and Soul: Profits with Principals. Pointing out that, in some cases, foreign aid to developing countries is wasted or falls into corrupt hands, Roddick has tried to set up direct economic ties with indigenous peoples. One example is the Brazilian factory her company helped launch that supplies Body Shop hair products with oil from the Brazil nut, an arrangement that directly benefits the Kayapo Indians with no intermediaries.

Body Shop outlets in the United States follow the same principles. They have been used as voter registration sites, and employees are paid for doing outside volunteer work one afternoon a week. One store runs a program that brings pets from animal shelters to visit with residents of nursing homes; the staff of another volunteers at a hospice for the terminally ill. "Nor do the stores have images of perfect women that might make the customer feel inadequate and driven to seek perfection through cosmetics," wrote Trish Hall in the New York Times. Roddick has consistently criticized the ethics of the rest of the beauty industry, whose products are lavishly advertised to induce subtle connections with subconscious fantasies of beauty, wealth, and love.

Still, Roddick's nontraditional business attitudes have caused a few problems with franchisees, and the company's stock nose-dived in 1992 when many investors dumped shares; she and her husband claimed to have lost $100 million on paper. The following year, Roddick appeared for the first time in an advertising image, after being paid by American Express to appear in a series of commercials showcasing corporate renegades. She suffered some criticism for this, and for a time received some flak for her seeming omnipresence in the media. Still, she has used her resources for numerous charitable projects, including the refitting of orphanages in Romania and the launch of a newspaper in London called the Big Issue, sold by the homeless. In 1992 Roddick formed Businesses for Social Responsibility with several other altruistic entrepreneurs, including the founders of the Ben & Jerry ice cream empire.

At the Body Shop headquarters in Littlehampton, battery-powered taxis take visitors to and from the complex of naturally ventilated buildings; its employees enjoy flexible working hours and on-site childcare. Roddick has hinted that she would like to take her company private, or off the stock market, and instead put its ownership into the hands of a perpetual foundation that would survive her and Gordon when they no longer jointly head the business. Still a tireless traveler, Roddick is also a popular guest lecturer at some of the best-known business schools in North America. Her favorite topic is ethics in business, an increasingly recognized part of an MBA curriculum in the 1990s. One of Roddick's future goals is to spread her message through her own school, which she would name the New Academy of Business; in the late 1990s she was investigating possible locations and courting investors.

Sources of Information

Contact at: The Body Shop
Littlehampton, West Sussex BN17 England
Business Phone: 44-1-90-373-1500


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Current Biography Yearbook. 1992. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1992.

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Elmer-Dewitt, Philip. "Anita the Agitator." Time, 25 January 1993.

Hall, Trish. "Striving to Be Cosmetically Correct." New York Times, 27 May 1993.

Lippert, Barbara. "Green Team: The Environmentally Correct Founder of the Body Shop Gives the American Express Card a '90s Kind of Charge." Adweek, 8 March 1993.

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Older, Jules. "Q&A: A Whirlwind Called Anita Hits Burlington." Vermont Business Magazine, May 1993.