Roddick, Anita

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Anita Roddick

British entrepreneur Anita Roddick (1942-2007) was the public face of the Body Shop cosmetics–store chain she founded. Roddick, one of Britain's most successful and visible business executives, was also a strident environmental and animal–rights activist. Roddick “believed that businesses could be run ethically, with what she called ‘moral leadership,’ and still turn a profit,” Sarah Lyall wrote in the New York Times. In 2006, one year before she died, Roddick sold the Body Shop and its 2,100 stores to cosmetics giant L'Oréal for ––C625 million ($1.3 billion).

Early Life

Roddick was born Anita Lucia Perilli on October 23, 1942, in Littlehampton, West Sussex, England. She was the third of four children to Gilda and Donny Perilli, Italian immigrants who made their children work after school and on weekends in the café they owned. They divorced while Roddick was eight—Donny, according to the British Guardian newspaper, was alcoholic and prone to violence. Gilda Perilli later married her ex–husband's cousin, Henry—he died of tuberculosis a few years later. When Roddick was 18, her mother admitted that Henry, in fact, was her father, the result of an extramarital affair.

After Roddick attended the Maude Allen Secondary Modern School for Girls, a drama school rejected her application. She took teachers' training at the Newtown Park College of Education in Bath, England, then worked in the morgue at the Paris office of the International Herald Tribune. At her next stop, Geneva, Switzerland, she worked briefly in the International Labour Organization's women's rights department.

Roddick spent a year at a kibbutz in Israel before quitting to visit such places as Tahiti, South Africa, and Australia. She applied what she learned during her travels while running the Body Shop. “When you've lived for six months with a group that is rubbing their bodies with cocoa butter, and those bodies are magnificent, or if you wash your hair with mud, and it works, you go on to break all sorts of conventions, from personal ethics to body care,” she said, as Lyall quoted her.

Shop Subsidized Husband's Hobby

In 1970, Roddick married Gordon Roddick in Reno, Nevada, when she was pregnant with their second child. They had been together for six years. Early in their marriage, while they were running a bed–and–breakfast lodging and an Italian health–food restaurant, Gordon told Anita he intended to ride horseback from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to New York over 18 months.

Needing to support her children while her husband pursued his hobby, Roddick began to cook moisturizers in her Brighton, England, home in 1975. One year later, she opened her first Body Shop, also in Brighton, based on a similar shop she had seen in Berkeley, California. Her husband helped her negotiate a ––C4,000 ($8,264) startup loan from a bank. Fifteen skin–care products with far–away names adorned her shelves, in five different bottle sizes to make her product line look more expansive. She originally used dark green paint on the walls, which became the trademark of Body Shops worldwide—to hide patches of mold. Local businessman Ian McGlinn, a former garage owner, provided an additional ––C4,000 in exchange for a 24 percent stake in the company.

Gordon Roddick, after he returned, provided business and financial savvy to the operation. The passionate Anita, meanwhile, was its face. The Body Shop did not need a marketing department, because she generated enough headlines en route to drawing praise as one of Britain's most successful female business executives. “Loquacious, wacky and opinionated, she was so far outside the normal businesswoman template that it was easy for her to attract free coverage,” the Telegraph of London wrote.

The Roddicks launched a franchise network and their first store outside the United Kingdom in Brussels, Belgium, in 1978. The company floated on the London Stock Exchange six years later. Its value in 1990 was ––C800 million ($1.7 billion). The Roddicks had a 30 percent shareholding at the time, making Anita the fourth–richest woman in Britain.

Introduced Activism to Business

Roddick used her business as a pulpit for social causes, including fair treatment of animals, the rain forest, debt relief for poor countries, voting rights, and whales. She believed running a business ethically and profitably were not mutually exclusive. Lyall called her “a woman of fierce passions, boundless energy, unconventional idealism, and sometimes diva–like temperament.” In 1985, Roddick promoted the save–the–whales campaign by the worldwide organization Greenpeace, prompting Lucy Siegle of the Guardian to call it “the first explicit tie–in between products and causes.” Roddick linked many of her products to pacifism, rain–forest preservation, opposition to nuclear power, and, according to Siegle, “sticking two fingers up at corporate greed.” Roddick also helped found Big Issue magazine in 1990, which homeless people sold and produced.

Her idealism at times collided with the business establishment. In 1999, for example, Roddick was among front– line protesters who were tear–gased outside the World Trade Organization in Seattle, Washington. “Her philippics about the evils of global capitalism, profits and the world trading system sat rather oddly with her status as the leader of a highly profitable multinational corporation with nearly 2,000 outlets in 49 countries,” the Telegraph wrote. When the Body Shop struggled financially during the 1990s, amid an economic downturn and increasing competition, corporate investors accused the Roddicks of campaigning obsessively for pet causes at the expense of operational efficiency.

Roddick, whom the Telegraph described as “highly likeable in many ways, though to some also extremely irritating,” was vulnerable to accusations of hypocrisy, particularly from the political left. The company, for example, said none of its products were tested on animals, though other companies had done such testing with ingredients the Body Shop used. In 1989, West Germany's government successfully sued a Body Shop subsidiary for misleading advertising, prompting the company to change its label from “not tested on animals” to “against animal testing.” A 1992 documentary by the British television show Dispatches also alleged the Body Shop with fraudulent claims, though Roddick sued and won, and in a 1994 article in Business Ethics—ironically, a magazine Roddick had endorsed—Jon Entine raised questions about the company's ecological and environmental standards.

She also spoke out against sweatshops, but added, as quoted by Laura Smith-Spark of BBC News, that “only pressure from Western consumers can trigger change.” She cited garment workers in Bangladesh, denied the three months of maternity leave to which she said they were entitled. “For the women and their infants, this is literally a matter of life and death, since their below–substance wages mean they have no savings in reserve,” she said.

Controversial Sale to L'Oréal

Early in the new millennium, rumors persisted that the Body Shop was for sale. Mexican company Grup Omnilife, a seller of direct–to–consumer nutritional supplements, and British cosmetics company Lush were linked with possible takeovers. In 2001 The Body Shop admitted receiving overtures; however, talks with both companies fizzled. Roddick, though, stepped down as company co– chair in 2002.

In March of 2006, an agreement was reached for L'Oréal to take over the Body Shop. The announcement rankled hard– core environmentalists, who said the Paris–based company, whose products include Garnier shampoo and Armani makeup, had a poor record on animal testing. The companies closed on the sale that November. Just before the sale, Ethical Consumer magazine had given L'Oréal its lowest possible rating on animal testing. Roddick once said, according to the Guardian, “I hate the beauty industry, it is a monster selling unattainable dreams. It lies, it cheats, it exploits women.”

Roddick, in an interview with the Guardian at her Chichester office in November of 2006, said she still held the same view of the profession. “The beauty industry hasn't changed much. You still have models that look glum—the ‘glum cow disease.’ You're still thrown on to the trash heap of life if you have wrinkles on her skin or dimples on your bum … and models have got[ten] much, much younger, too.”

Still, Roddick perceived herself as a “Trojan horse” who hoped to influence policies at L'Oréal. Under the merger agreement, the Body Shop continued to run itself independently, with Roddick serving as an adviser to the French company. “A handful of consumers will never forgive her for L'Oréal, but she seems to be of the opinion that it was worth it,” Siegle wrote in the Guardian. After Roddick closed on the sale to L'Oréal, she and her husband concentrated their energies on her nonprofit Anita Roddick Foundation. She also published several namesake books through her publishing company. “After 30 years of leading the company I had other avenues to pursue. I wanted to do something with the money I had while I am still able to,” she told Claudia Cahalane of the Guardian.

Though some analysts argued that L'Oréal overpaid for the Body Shop, the headlines were more positive a year later. An estimate in 2007 by research firm Oddo Securities said sales at the Body Shop will increase at three times the overall L'Oréal pace by 2010 because of rising environmental awareness. Oddo projected Body Shop sales to increase twenty-four percent over three years.

“There is a definite green movement. Consumers' expectations have become much higher in the last couple of years.” Tina Gill of Organic Monitor told the International Herald Tribune. Organic Monitor compiles marketing data for L'Oréal and U.S. consumer products giant Procter & Gamble, among others. “Mid–to–long term, L'Oréal has really scored a winner,” Deutsche Bank analyst Harold Thompson said in the same article. “I think they took all their competitors by surprise.”

Contracted Hepatitis While Giving Birth

In February of 2007, Roddick revealed that she had contracted Hepatitis C—which doctors call a “silent killer”—from a blood transfusion in 1971, when she gave birth to her daughter, Samantha. She was diagnosed with the illness in 2004, but went public as her condition worsened. She developed cirrhosis of the liver and needed a transplant. “It's a bit of a bummer, but you groan and move on,” she said, as quoted in the Telepgraph. Typically, she turned her condition into a crusade. “For starters, she wants to know why the government spends £40 [million] a year promoting the switch from analog to digital television and just £2 [million] on her disease,” Siegle wrote.

Amid deteriorating health, Roddick persisted with her causes, and continued to work on her 12–acre home in West Sussex, which she bought in 1999. She cut down on travel, though she shot rapids in Canada's Yukon territory. “Though I've stepped down from the business side of things, the campaigning work is stronger than ever, via the books and my Web site, where I post a new dispatch each week,” she said in an interview with Elspeth Thompson of the Telegraph. “I'm into more creative solutions now, definitely a lot less confrontational than I was.” Still, Thompson wrote, “I did sense, though, that Roddick missed her more public profile.”

Mourned as Activist, Business Leader

In early September of 2007, Roddick, whose mother had died recently at age 94, complained of a headache, then collapsed and was taken to St. Richard's Hospital in Chichester, West Sussex. She died after a major brain hemorrhage on September 10. Her husband and daughters Justine and Samantha were with her.

Accolades came in droves for Roddick, who received Order of the British Empire and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire awards in 1988 and 2003, respectively. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called Roddick “one of the country's true pioneers” who inspired businesswomen. “She will be remembered not only as a great campaigner but also as a great entrepreneur,” Brown said, as quoted by BBC News. Former co–worker Justin Francis said in the same article, “She had a great passion for life, a great passion for business and for people. She was very warm, very witty, and very clever.”

Samantha Roddick, as quoted in the Telegraph, called her mother “a hurricane, a tornado—a weather system that reached every horizon and every corner of the world.” John Elkington of business consultancy Sustainability, said in the Guardian, “Twenty years ago, the business community said to Anita, ‘What in god's name are you doing?’ Her fair trade ideas were peripheral. But she created the space where it's acceptable to set up an environmental business. Now everyone's doing it. That's a huge achievement.”


“And This Time, It's Personal,” Guardian Unlimited,,,2015586,00.html (November 6, 2007).

“Anita Roddick: A Great Heart in a Tiny Frame,” Telegraph, (November 6, 2007).

“Anita Roddick, Body Shop Founder, Dies at 64,” New York Times, (November 6, 2007).

“Body Shop in Takeover Talks,” BBC News, (November 28, 2007).

“Dame Anita Roddick,” Telegraph, (November 6, 2007).

“Dame Anita Roddick Dies Aged 64,” BBC News, (November 6, 2007).

“Dame Anita Roddick Dies Aged 64,” Guardian Unlimited,,,2166382,00.html (November 6, 2007).

“‘I Believe They Are Honourable and the Work They Do is Honourable,’” Guardian Unlimited, (November 6, 2007).

“L'Oréal's Purchase of Body Shop is Paying Off,” International Herald Tribune, (November 28, 2007).

“Roddick Targets ‘Sweatshop’ Shame,” BBC News, (November 6, 2007).