A Bit of Heart Never Hurts

Just finished reading Anita Roddick’s Business As Unusual. Part-autobiography, part-business book, all of a great read. Pick up this book if you can.

Roddick who?

If you don’t know Roddick, you must know her business.

The Body Shop.

Roddick has been quoted and quoted and then some while The Body Shop is the stuff of case studies in business and management classes. People can’t understand why she is so good at her business.

Skincare With Attitude

Yes, the highly-successful skincare company which not only sells skincare but a tonne of attitude as well. That’s the edge and difference between Roddick’s 30 year old company and other copycats.

Not bad for a woman who started The Body Shop out of sheer necessity! With two toddlers, she came up with the idea of a skincare business because her husband Gordon was going to be away, fulfilling a dream of travelling on horseback in South America. She thought that having a business would help sustain her and her two children while Gordon was away.

The Body Shop logo you see today as well as the signature deep green were borne out of sheer desperation and necessity too. She painted the walls of her first shop dark green to hide the ugly patches on the wall. She paid a designer 25 pounds for the logo. She also wanted customers to bring back empty bottles because she wanted to save on packaging costs.

And look where her Italian thriftiness and creativity got her: The Body Shop is now found in 49 countries.

Activist & Pacifist

But her book is about doing business and going into the mind of Roddick, who is both an activist and pacifist. She tells it like it is – how she feels that feminine values of compassion, kindness and love do have a place in the boardroom and that she was just 30 years ahead when she started to combine business with ethics.

Business Ethics = Oxymoron?

It couldn’t be done. After all, isn’t business ethics an oxymoron?

Roddick is highly disarming in the honest way she writes about how she feels that skincare is just skincare. Any old moisturiser would do, she proclaims. You can get the same results if you used mayonnaise on your hair instead of conditioner.

But, Roddick argues, if she could use her business as a platform to sensitize customers to the real and highly relevant issues happening in the world today, she would.

And that had been her vision and goal since day one of her business. Where she intentionally sets out to shock people and shake up their beliefs and make them re-think issues.

Example, is there really fair trade today? Can we prevent worldwide poverty? Can we do something to help the marginalised in a fair and ethical way? Do consumers care for their brands? Do consumers buy with their hearts? Is it proper to be political and yet sell “beauty” products?

She writes with a passion that literally jumps off the pages of her book – she is at times humbling, most times tongue-in-cheek and all the time educating and refusing to be pigeonholed.

Sueing For Libel

She does not gloss over the tough and challenging times – like the time when she had to sue a reporter for libel and slander, portraying her and the company as dubious and hypocrites. She does not mince words either and she admits that The Body Shop has not been perfect and not all of their experiments to help the indigenous have turned out the way she hoped.

This is precisely what makes Roddick’s book such an insightful read. She acknowledges her mistakes, she looks back fondly at what she has achieved and looks forward to the world and the work she has yet to do. In many ways, she changes the way people view business.

Business Isn’t Apolitical

Business, she says, isn’t apolitical. It has the capacity to change and shape the world for the better but most businesses shy away from their social responsibility. Which is undoubtedly sad as there is much power and essence in collective social action.

Above all, Roddick says, a bit of heart never hurts in business. Business must have heart or it is no better than a slab of concrete.

Have a go at her book if you can.

It’s provocative but all good books provoke and push us out of our comfort zone.

And boy, does it kick ass.

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