Body Shop founder writes spiritual book on company's success

INVESTING BODY AND SOUL INTO THE BEAUTY BUSINESS

January 13, 1992|By TOM PETERS

How's this: Best book by a CEO. Best written business book. Most spiritual and liberal business book. Most practical and conservative business book. Best business book for 20-year-olds pondering the future. The winner is: "Body & Soul," by Body Shop International founder Anita Roddick (Crown Pubs.).

The first Body Shop opened on March 27, 1976, at 22 Kensington Gardens, Brighton, England. At day's end, Ms. Roddick stuffed the take, $225, into her dungaree pocket. Later that year, Ian McGlinn provided Anita and husband Gordon a desperately needed $7,000. Today, Mr. McGlinn's stake is worth $250 million.

"A great advantage I had when I started The Body Shop," Ms. Roddick writes, "was that I had never been to business school." The secrets of business, as she sees them, never darken B-school doors. "If I had to name a driving force in my life, I'd plump for passion every time." Ms. Roddick adds that "the twin ideas of love and care touch everything we do."

Love? Care? Ms. Roddick hasn't found much of either among her competitors: "The world of retailing . . . taught me nothing. . . . Huge corporations [are] dying of boredom caused by the inertia of their giantism."

Body Shop lives by a decidedly more energetic premise. "The business of business is to keep the company alive and breathlessly excited," Ms. Roddick writes, "to protect the work force, to be a force for good in our society and then, after all that, to think of the [shareholders]." Alternatively, "If companies are in business solely to make money, you can't fully trust whatever else they do or say. . . . The whole sense of fun is lost, the whole sense of play, of derring-do."

Body Shop succeeds by educating customers, shunning the usual cosmetics-industry hype. "We prefer to give staff information about the product, anecdotes about the history and derivation of the ingredients, and any funny stories about how they came on Body Shop shelves," Ms. Roddick claims. "We want to spark conversations with our customers, not browbeat them to buy."

Since Body Shop does no advertising, such conversation is paramount. "We let our customers spread our message by word of mouth," Ms. Roddick tells us. Enthusiasm helps too. "I can't bear to be around people who are bland and bored and uninterested [or to employ them]," she asserts. "Brain-dead, gum-chewing [shop] assistants . . . drive me wild. . . . Every time I go into . . . my stores, I want to be thrilled by what I see and by the people I meet . . . to be delighted and surprised."

Before starting Body Shop, Anita and Gordon Roddick blew their first retail venture, a restaurant. The disaster held important lessons: "We had done everything wrong. . . . What saved us . . . was our willingness to recognize that we were wrong and our ability to move swiftly to the next idea." That determination to "try anything" reflects a management style Ms. Roddick describes as "loosely structured, collaborative, imaginative and improvisatory." She says that she and Gordon have "fostered a kind of benevolent anarchy by encouraging everyone to question what they [do] and how they [do] it." The peripatetic Ms. Roddick desperately pursues new ideas: "We have learned to love change. . . . I will go anywhere to talk to people who say they are doing things in a better way."

Body Shop has fought the normal, dreaded tendency toward stagnation that accompanies growth. Mr. Roddick, Anita reports, "is now talking about running the company without an office, just a chair which will move from department to department." And Ms. Roddick has taken to making somewhat risky decisions just to demonstrate spunk. Otherwise, she speculates, "We would have all our managers . . . getting incredibly excited about our profits . . . and forgetting that business is . . . also about staying human."

But Body Shop's most important defense against entropy, Ms. Roddick suggests, is learning "to love the person who irritates you. Tap the energy of the anarchist." She adds, such anarchists probably won't be found "among the ranks of managers and executives -- the custodians of our culture will be found among the young kids who are joining us now."

In 16 years, in an unspeakably competitive industry, Ms. Roddick's global empire has grown to 709 shops that tallied $26 million in 1991 profit on $240 million in revenue. Ms. Roddick's done it her way. "For me there are no modern-day heroes in the business world," she flatly states, "no captains of industry who make my blood surge. I have met no corporate executive who values labor and who exhibits a sense of joy, magic or theater. . . . There is so much ignorance in top management and boards of directors: All the big companies seem to be led by accountants and lawyers, and become moribund, carbon-copy versions of each other. If there is excitement and adventure in their lives, it is contained in the figures on the profit and loss sheet. What an indictment!"

Ms. Roddick's contrarian values are clear: "First, you have to have fun. Second, you have to put love where your labor is. Third, you have to go in the opposite direction to everyone else."

Despite analyst predictions of 40 percent annual profit growth for the next five years, the jury's always out on any retailer's future. Yet Ms. Roddick already provides a worthy role model. She contends business will have to be done her way in the year 2000 -- or else. She's got a point.

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