June 19, 2020

History’s Greatest Strategists: Dame Anita Roddick

June 19, 2020

History’s Greatest Strategists: Dame Anita Roddick

Business Strategy, History's Greatest Strategists, Business Growth, Dame Anita Roddick, The Body Shop

A Life Built Around a Moral Business

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of a multitude of people. And in the past few months, the world has undergone a number of crisis episodes.

In this series, we use the Step Change creativity tool to show how some of history’s greatest strategists might apply their strategies to the current crisis. The strategist for the day is a pioneer for green entrepreneurship who changed the game for beauty brands forever, Dame Anita Roddick.

When looking for their favourite beauty products, the words “cruelty-free”, “ethically-sourced” and “natural” may be a staple for a lot of people’s online searches today. But more than just mere words,  businesswoman, human rights activist and environmental campaigner Dame Anita Roddick considered them as her way of life. Her social commitment provided a foundation for her beauty empire, The Body Shop, which has unapologetically stood for these values since the very beginning– going against the grain of what was popular in cosmetic brands during the 70s.

As their heritage reads, The Body Shop is “never afraid to stand out from the crowd and stand up for what’s right”. This unshakable belief was not limited to ethically-sourced ingredients, recycled packaging, and their advocacy for naturally-inspired beauty products.

Dame Anita Roddick’s purpose-led approach ensured that employees, partners, and even customers shared the same values– resulting in a caring brand personality and an open relationship with a like-minded community of customers. Roddick challenged brand stereotypes and differentiated the company from its competitors.

Great Strategist for the Day: Dame Anita Roddick

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Her Greatest Triumph: Building a beauty empire that actively engaged in social responsibility and  change

A way to look deeper into Dame Anita Roddick’s psyche, we took time to book a virtual interview with the Dame. Here is a short (and imaginary) interview between historian Chris Bishop and the woman herself.

Chris Bishop (CB): Welcome Dame Anita, let's start with the question of what you see as your greatest achievement?

Anita Roddick (AR): I have never thought about what is the greatest as there have been a number of significant achievements in my life. However, on reflection, the building of a major beauty business that actively engaged in social responsibility and change stand out.

CB: What were the major challenges in achieving this?

AR: The cosmetic industry has had a history of testing its products on animals. We were going against the industry in creating a company based upon socially and environmentally based principles. 

CB: Can you give us a brief overview of your career?

AR: I opened the first Body Shop in 1976, with the goal of earning an income for myself and my two daughters while my husband was away in South America. I wanted to provide quality skin care products in refillable containers and sample sizes, all marketed with truth rather than hype. I opened our second shop six months later. On my husband's return, he joined the business.

By 1991, the Body Shop had 700 branches, and I was awarded the 1991 World Vision Award for Development Initiative.

By 2004, we had 1980 stores, serving more than 77 million customers throughout the world. We were voted the second most trusted brand in the United Kingdom, and 28th top brand in the world.

On 17 March 2006, I sold the business to L’Oréal for £652 million. There was some controversy and criticism raised, as L'Oréal was known to use animal testing in the development of its products.

CB: That’s a fantastic growth story. However, tell us a bit more about how the product became so popular.

AR: The original Body Shop was a series of brilliant accidents. It had a great smell, it had a funky name. It was positioned between two funeral parlours - that always caused controversy. It was incredibly sensuous. What was unique about it, with no intent at all, no marketing nous, was that it translated across cultures, across geographical barriers and social structures. It wasn't a sophisticated plan, it just happened like that.

CB: You are renowned for your commitment to environmental causes and charitable endeavours. Tell us something about the causes you support.

AR: I have always believed that businesses, as well as governments and individuals, have a responsibility for caring for our environment. In addition, I believe that we need to share our worth with those less fortunate members of society.

In 1990 I founded Children on the Edge (COTE), which was in response to my visits to Romanian orphanages. I created COTE to help manage the crisis of poor conditions in the overcrowded orphanages and worked to de-institutionalise the children over the course of their early life. COTE's mission is to help disadvantaged children affected by conflicts, natural disasters, disabilities, and HIV/AIDS.

In the late 1990s, I also became involved in the case of the Angola Three, African-American men who had been held for more than two decades in solitary confinement at Louisiana State Penitentiary in America. I help raise international awareness of their case and provide funds to support appeals of their flawed convictions. 

In December 2005, I announced that I intended to use my wealth for philanthropy; it was estimated at that time to amount to around £51 million.

CB: Could you talk us through the Strategies that you used in building The Body Shop?

AR: We used stories to share the journey behind each product. This created a brand personality and built an open relationship with customers. The big cosmetic companies struggled to match those relationships.

We used Recycled packaging. This was seen as an ethical approach which won support from many customers.

Finally, but very important was the selection of franchises.

We used the Marcus Proust questionnaire to determine their values and beliefs. This enabled us to select people with the values we were looking for.

CB: What advice would you offer new business owners?

AR: Create a purpose for your business that is relatable and differentiates you from your competitors. Your purpose should inspire action from your employees. Your people must believe in the brand, the product and the purpose of the organisation.

CB: Any last words of wisdom?

AR: You have to believe in what you are doing and relate to the customers. Consumers have not been told effectively enough that they have huge power and that purchasing and shopping involve a moral choice.

Finally, if you think you are too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito!!

Note: Anita Roddick died of an acute brain haemorrhage. She left her fortune to charities rather than her family.

Watch Ashton's video below on how Anita Roddick's most effective strategies could be applied into today's context.

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