G’day Anthillians! Is it really possible to be a successful business person and a paragon of moral virtue? Resident Antagonist Ray Beatty looks back on one woman’s life dedicated to the pursuit of both goals; a life that today’s entrepreneurs would do well to emulate.
“Greed is good,” said Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. “All’s fair when you’re doing business,” thought a clutch of business superstars like Alan Bond, Rodney Adler and Renee Rivkin. And there are plenty of business folk who are happy enough to bend the rules without risking jail. The object, after all, is to win at all costs – isn’t it? Well one person didn’t believe this.
“People use the excuse of business to leave their morals at the front door and I don’t know how they get away with it,” said The Body Shop’s Anita Roddick. Before she died in September, aged 64, she managed to change the way business is done and perceived.
Though only the proprietor of a chain of high-street cosmetics shops, she achieved a degree of recognition and respect usually given to statesmen and saints. She also changed the way marketing and advertising are done – by not doing any.
Back-up there, that isn’t really true. She did do advertising and marketing, but she re-invented the way they are done.
You never saw TV commercials of beautiful skimpily-clad models running across the sand in slow motion or squeezing fruit droplets into their raised mouths with the Body Shop logo glinting in the background.
But you did see Anita in an ethnic skirt and blouse addressing a protest against animal testing, or in a native village in South America, or plastering Greenpeace slogans on every shop window in
She captured the imaginations and consciences of the school kids of the 80s and 90s – and was so skilful that she achieved this not only in her native Britain but also in America, Australia and much of Europe. Was there a school girl in the 80s, you wonder, who didn’t have a bottle of Body Shop Dewberry Lip Gloss in the bottom of her school bag?
It all started from a little shop in Brighton in 1976 when Anita was trying to feed her two young girls (and husband Gordon was off trekking through America). As she readily admits, the empire was never planned, at least not in the beginning. But it happened because they offered the public something it wanted: ethical products and marketing.
Using her stores as a base of operations, she worked for all the issues that grieved her: rain forest protection, debt relief for developing countries, the indigenous farmers of impoverished nations, anti-whaling, voting rights, anti-sexism and anti-ageism. She believed that businesses could be ethical, give the world moral leadership, but still make a profit.
In 1990 she joined a group that set up the magazine The Big Issue, produced and sold by homeless people. Deep inside her lay a moral belief that poverty – whether at home or in the third world – could be defeated if people were given the chance to do it themselves.
Anita Roddick’s leadership helped create the new environmentally-friendly morality the world’s business has since been learning. Certainly there is a long way to go but now we have companies vying with each other to be the greenest.
Recyclable packaging has become a virtue. Corporations recycle their masses of discarded documents. Cosmetic companies have greatly reduced animal testing. Banks give employees time off to help the community. And everywhere there is at least lip service paid to the environment.
Inevitably, the time came to cash in the chips and sell out to a mega-corporation. Ironically, it was L’Oreal, whose animal testing she’d campaigned against – owned by Nestle, whose African baby-formula sales had stirred her ire. They paid $1.5 billion, of which $300 million went into the Roddick family coffers.
Her admirers went into a lather about the sale but she reassured them that Body Shop would not change: “The campaigning, being a maverick, changing the rules of business. It’s all there, protected.
It’s not going to change – that’s part of
our DNA.” And then she added that she had been working on L’Oreal to change the company’s own ethics. If anyone could do this, it was Anita Roddick.
She showed how to grow a phenomenally successful company, become a millionaire, fight her good fights and show the world that “businesses have the power to do good”.
Ray Beatty runs MarketingSolutions, a consultancy advising companies on how to turn around their unsuccessful advertising campaigns. www.ebeatty.com