Anita Roddick, Body Shop’s founder, and I became acquainted through Oren R. Lyons, Plantagon’s Chairman of the Board, when we met in Sweden to discuss the driving forces of her company. Some years earlier she had succeded in introducing her company to the London Stock Exchange. The company’s new listing provided Body Shop with money that would be used for expansion of some of Anita’s ideas. Or so she thought.
When we met, she looked downcast, tired and disappointed. She deeply regretted her decision to list the company and cursed herself for not having the personal strength to resist the forces that steered the process.
This is the story she related to me and Oren, as best as I can remember:
I started the Body Shop because I needed something to do and to show that women are very capable in business. Things went well more or less from the start; someone contacted us expressing interest in opening a store in another city, then a third got in touch not too long after... and so on.
I saw the resources we managed to create in a relatively short period of time, and Body Shop became a powerful tool for me for transforming society. I used 25% of the profits for different community projects, we prioritized socially responsible trade with the poorest of our suppliers and still managed to make a considerable profit. Maybe that’s why we became so successful – I haven’t done a single advertisement for Body Shop in all these years. Our reputation speaks for us and our customers have always had good things to say about us. It’s as if employees, customers and suppliers share in our drive to succeed. Then the CFO-people started harping on us about the stock exchange. They said we needed more money for investments, expansion and so on. This end of the business has never held so much appeal for me, and I couldn’t withstand the pressure from the financial department in the long run; no choice other than to go along with putting the company on the stock market.....Since then it doesn’t feel as if the Body Shop of today is the same company I built from the start. Everything revolves around the next quarterly report and I can no longer devote myself to the real reason for my running the company – to make a change. So much has been ruined in the process.
When Anita continued to donate money to social projects after Body Shop got listed the new owners objected immediately.
In an interview in the Daily Telegraph Anita Roddick called the financial elite ”a bunch of financial fascists”:
”They only see their financial goals and disregard justice and human rights. The world around them makes no difference, just profit and loss statements...”
Anita Roddick left Body Shop for good just a few months after our meeting. After her official retirement on the 10th of September 2007, she still represents for me and many others a shining example of social entrepeneurship.
Anita Roddick is the person who enabled me to comprehend the true potential in the Companization. I was persuaded to present my model to her by the Plantagon Chairman Oren R. Lyons. Slightly embarrassed and with a healthy sense of humility, I set about describing this organizational concept, hoping my convictions about the Companization as a radical and reformative approach to combining for profit and non profit activities in the same professional forum.
When I was finished, Anita leaned back in her armchair, shook her head and said:
Hans, if you would have shown me this idea a few years ago I would never, ever have put Body Shop on the stock market – I could have borrowed the money from my members instead! It’s brilliant! What you have done is to constitutionalize sound values in the costume of a share holding company.
What Anita said was unfathomable to me. OK, her final statement about trying to establish a sound value base in the company was easy to understand, of course, even if the word constitutionalize was novel for me. However, her comments about the stock market and loaning money for the company were of greatest interest at this point.
Body Shop intended initially to start an association whose purpose would have been to support Body Shop’s work in reducing its use of chemicals and processes that were dangerous for the environment, humans and animals. In addition, all the members of the association would participate in social work that the company carried on such as construction and administration of orphanages in Rumania and several other countries.
Customers in Body Shop’s stores all around the world had been invited to acquaint themselves with, become engaged in and exert influence on the operations as shareholders by paying a modest membership fee.
Anita thought herself that Body Shop would easily be able to attract millions of new members in this way. And revenue from these very same people was in her mind a realistic and preferable option to a short-term focus on acquiring risk capital on the stock market. In other words, relying on the generosity and commitment of existing and new members in the form of a private loan to the organization.
I could just hear the jingle of ten crown coins when I listened to her. She aggrandized the idea of the Companization from my somewhat simplistic concept of association to a well-organized social entrepreneurship, something likely to take on much greater significance than we had thought from the start. Since then, Anita’s vision has guided us.
I have had very few role models. Oren R. Lyons is one, Anita Roddick is for sure another one.