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DISPATCH: Reflections on Success, Part I
Posted on September 9, 2003 by Anita


A couple of years ago, I was interviewed by BBC journalist Martyn Lewis about my definition of - and path to - success. I have always found that my view of success has been iconoclastic: success to me is not about money or status or fame, its about finding a livelihood that brings me joy and self-sufficiency and a sense of contributing to the world. My recent meeting with the fabulous ladies of The Body Shop At Home reminded me of this chapter, especially since we all realized that female definitions of success are unique and often unaccounted for.

Following is an excerpt from Reflections on Success, the critically-acclaimed 1998 book by Lewis.

Body Shop Founder Anita Roddick - a wave of unfettered enthusiasm and energy - has spent most of her life challenging the way people think. In setting up an eco-friendly beauty products empire that straddles the world, she has been the living embodiment of one of her most famous advertising slogans - 'If you think you're too small to be effective, try going to bed with a mosquito.' This entrepreneurial daughter of Italian immigrants has always marched to a different drumbeat. Rejected by drama college, she trained as a teacher, but found the classroom too limiting and took to the hippie trail, ending up on Pacific islands where living with 'ore-industrial groups- gave her ideas for the massive enterprise to come. But first, back in Sussex, she opened an 'exhausting' café which 'taught her how to run a business'. Then, in 1976, she tried to raise a £4,000 bank loan to start The Body Shop, but was turned down. 'The banks were useless at the start,' she says, 'and still are. It's easier for a woman to raise money for her new kitchen cabinet, or even a car, than for a business enterprise.' So her husband, Gordon, borrowed the money - and gave it to her. Later, she could only raise money for expansion by giving away 50 per cent of the company in return - a move that she now regrets. At the core of The Body Shop concept were simple questions like 'Why can't you buy a smaller bottle of shampoo and why can't you refill it?' Growth was rapid. In 1984, the company went public. Financial success encouraged and funded her campaign for social change - embracing human rights, the promotion of condoms, opposition to the Gulf War and a Masters Degree course in 'Business and Responsibility' at Bath University. She measures her company each year 'by how brave we've been' - and needed lots of bravery to deal with a potentially hugely damaging article attacking The Body Shop's ethos and methods. She talks here of how she used 'reputation management' to counter this 'corporate stalker', of how the allegations were challenged 'word for word'; and of 'the intimacy approach', writing to every single shop to restore 'the sense of family'. She regards her biggest current failure as 'not finding ways for my ideas to be heard in my own company', which opens up the whole question of whether large successful companies need a corporate discipline which doesn't always sit easily with the entrepreneurial passions and ideas of the founder.

Lewis: What is your definition of success?

Anita Roddick: I want to define success by redefining it. For me it isn't that solely mythical definition - glamour, allure, power of wealth, and the privilege from care. Any definition of success should be personal because it's so transitory. It's about shaping my own destiny.

If you'd asked me this question 20 years ago, my definition of success would have been to have earned enough money to keep the kids fed. Ten years ago, it would have been to see how far the idea of The Body Shop could go. I would have measured it by how many people I employed, or how many stores were open, or whether we could open a store in another country. Now I would say that a measure of my success is that, in some way, I have managed to change the nature and function of business, to ensure that it becomes kinder and gentler, and to understand that business is more powerful than governments, and the huge responsibility that comes with that. So my definition of success today would be that I've managed to shape the new, challenging thinking on business.

What you're saying is that you start off in the very early stages, having relatively short-term materialistic ambitions, but as you're more successful you can then embrace wider concepts?

Yes, that's it in a nutshell, but when you're dealing with the question of success you have to deal with the personality of the people you're talking to. My entrepreneurial style is quite pathological. An entrepreneur is very enthusiastic and dances to a different drum beat, but never considers success as something which equates to personally wealth. That never enters our consciousness. We have incredible enthusiasm, and I think part of the success of any entrepreneur is energy. If one has that energy one can create a wonderful enthusiasm. Entrepreneurs have this real belief that their lives are about services and leadership.

What are the qualities that people need, to stand a reasonable chance of being successful?

That's a hard question to answer in a country, in a culture, where energy is so disarming and always dismissed. But you've got to be energetic. You've go to have a passion which comes from every tentacle of your body, and you've got to make that passion a reality. You constantly have to visualize the possible. I think if you have this passion for what you want to do, it creates a vision in your head which becomes the present. It's never something you aspire to, it is the present, and therefore you never see any problems. No entrepreneur that I've ever met has ever seen a problem.

Are you born with this passion, or can you learn it?

No. It's not inherent, it's a learned state. I think the environment that you grow up in is instrumental. If you look at most entrepreneurs, what do they have in common? Most of them have understood a sense of loss. They've been pushed out of childhood and rather than entering adulthood, they became providers. In my case my father died. We were an immigrant family in which every member had to work so we were always outside the stream. We never smelt the same as anybody, we stank of garlic, we never spoke the same, we were much more full of Italian brio, we were much more contradictory, we didn't have the scared cows that other people had. When you march to a different drumbeat, you look at things in a different way - you're never part of the throng.

Was being an outsider a factor in the sense that outsiders have to try harder than people who are part of the mainstream?

Definitely. And the immigrant background that I had instilled in me a sense that life was no more complicated than love and work. You had to work - even as a child - to earn enough money to keep the family going. We didn't have the constraints of class, we thought everything was possible, we didn't understand the class system here. And, as I mentioned before, we had energy and a secret ingredient, enthusiasm.

And when you left school you wanted to go into drama because you'd done drama at school. So at that stage, your future career was totally unformed, in fact it wasn't even in your mind, was it?

I suppose it's all about what shaped you as a child. My parents were Italian. My culture was the radio and the cinema. Because we didn't have television, we went to the cinema five days a week. It bred this desire to be up there on the golden screen. I can project my own individuality or fashion somebody else's identity, but my mum couldn't understand my wish to go into drama. She wanted me to go into a profession, to be a teacher, a nurse or a secretary.

So you rebelled against her in applying for drama college?

I don't think I rebelled against her; I just thought I was good at it. My first element of success was winning a talent competition. At 14, I was having this major love affair with the dead James Dean. I wanted to read everything he had read. He read Strindberg, I read Strindberg. He read Ibsen, I read Ibsen. He was in love with this particular soliloquy, the madman soliloquy from a Charles Dickens novel, so I copied that as well. I dressed like a madman, wrapped in chains. For the performance I did what Stanislavsky, the great Russian director, did - I opened the curtain with my back to the audience, started with this great blood-curdling scream, and then acted like a maniac. It was so intensely exciting and I won. So I knew the power of theatre then and I don't think it's ever left me.

And did you feel you liked an audience?

I was comfortable with an audience. I had no sense of fear as long as I knew something about what I was doing. Even today, standing in front of 10,000 people, which I do occasionally to give a lecture or a talk, holds no fear for me at all.

You'd set your heart on a drama career, but you were turned down by the Central School of Speech and Drama. That was clearly a setback, how did you deal with that within yourself?

I thought, 'Where's my next audience?' If I wanted to make the most of my ability to project myself, the best thing in the world was to be a teacher. So there I was, a working-class kid going to a very middle-class teacher training college for three years, and then I became a teacher. I wanted to project myself on to the school room, and I did. It was hugely entertaining. For example, I dragged - this was in the 1960s so you could do that then - a group of kids who were studying O-level history on the First World War to France. We hitched there and slept in the trenches that still remained. We read Rupert Brooke poems. We acted out Joan Littlewood's 'Oh! What a Lovely War'. I can't imagine any teacher being able to do that nowadays. But that was my style of teaching, it was all experiential.

You were clearly enjoying teaching, why did you stop?

I think it's about limitations - my limitation was the classroom. I was half a dozen years older than the kids I was teaching. The only difference between them and myself was that I was on one side of the desk and they were on the other.

One of the great things about the early 1960s was this new-found freedom to travel, especially as a working-class student. Student loans enabled students to travel, and travelling for me was like a university without walls, it always provided insights. I travelled to Paris and I lived in Paris, I worked for the United Nations in Geneva, I spent a year travelling around the Indian Ocean Islands and Pacific Islands, living with pre-industrial groups, fishing groups - that's when I first understood the power of community and a world beyond our Western notion, and the role women could play in it. It was education through experience, and it was where I got the ideas for The Body Shop.

Was The Body Shop in your mind at this stage?

No. I wanted to be a television director, a magnificent teacher, or whatever. I had no idea - all I wanted to do was to experience as much as I could.

So at this stage you were still uncertain as to what your future career would be? You were trying out lots of things and visiting all kinds of different places. You went on the hippie trail, but then you came back and started an Italian restaurant in Littlehampton.

Well, it was hardly an Italian restaurant. It started as a health-food café in Littlehampton, but after no time I realized we were going to go bankrupt. So we bought in a chip fryer, hamburgers and made pastas. I mean I remember one guy coming up and saying, 'Could I have a quick Lorraine and a glass of rosy wine?' But we had a sense of style - you cannot talk about success if you don't involve the words aesthetics and ethics, because to deny yourself the sense of delight and pleasure around whatever you do is to deny one of the great aspects of who you are as an individual. I styled everything, and the café looked like a wonderful Victorian celebration of Littlehampton at the turn of the century. We had music, but what's more, a real understanding of community - the only time I'd ever experienced that before was in a kibbutz. I embrace this wonderful notion that you can create communities and places where people's experiences are formed, where marriages or relationships are formed - and that can happen in cafés. It was the case in my mum's café and also in my café.

Was it a financial success?

Yes. And not only was it a financial success, it allowed my husband, Gordon, to go off for two years to ride this horse across South America. It allowed me the freedom to set up something which was going to be really small and controllable, The Body Shop, and it also gave me an enormous sense of understanding about how to run a business. Nobody, but nobody works as hard as somebody running a restaurant. I've never been more tired in my life, closing that café or that restaurant at night - at 11 o'clock, night after night. You go straight to bed and you can't get up in the morning because your legs are so damned exhausted. I can't understand how anybody wants to open up a restaurant!

So did you open up the first Body Shop to escape from the pressure of the restaurant?

Yes, I opened up The Body Shop because Gordon wanted to go away. I wanted a nice, easy, controllable nine-to-five, pick-up-the-kids-from-school existence.

And what was the original concept of The Body Shop?

It was all about education through experience, and women are really good at this - understanding what they're interested in. During my years of travelling, I picked up so many ideas from people that I'd lived with - for example, in Tahiti the women wouldn't eat cocoa butter, they'd just rub it on their bodies and their skin was like silk. So my experiences with people from other cultures taught me things like that. I was also dissatisfied and dissatisfaction is a primary mover for energy. I used to go into a local chemist and only be able to buy this gallon of shampoo, and I used to think to myself, 'Why can't I have a small bottle? Why can't I refill it?' Simple questions like that. And the entrepreneur in me would say, 'Why not, why can't you?' That dissatisfaction gave me the energy to set it up.

And did you think, at that stage, 'This is the start of an empire'? You only had one shop, didn't you?

I never think big, I just think better, or more exciting. The nature of size is of no interest to me at all. The press say to me, 'You're opening up one store every two days, and by the end of this century you'll have 2,000' - so what, the barometers of measurement for me are - is it better, is it more exciting? Until Gordon came back from the trip, it was just a livelihood. I just had this energy and opened up another shop and was fortunate enough to find somebody to loan me some money to do it.

And when you were trying to raise the money for the initial Body Shop, did you find the bank helpful?

Useless. And 20 years later they're still as bad. It is still easier for a woman to raise money for her new kitchen cabinet or even a car than it is for a business enterprise. It's seduction and that's wrong, because you're seduced into believing that the banks are really supportive of women. They're not, especially if the women are mothers. It's a very patriarchal system, not unlike the military. In 20 years, I have never met a bank manager who has the excitement and the brio of an entrepreneur. They're good housekeepers, they protect themselves.

After you opened your first shop and it was starting to make money, you decided to open a second. You went to the bank before anybody else to see if you could raise money? What was their reaction?

The first time I went, they said no to me, and so my husband went instead. They gave Gordon the money and he gave it to me. It's pathetic, but that's how it was. When I wanted to open up my second store, there was no way I was going to go to the bank. I'd only been trading for six months, we didn't know whether it was going to work. It could just be a fad, nobody had done this type of stuff before, and we didn't know whether it was going to work. So I had to find a private investor.

And you had to give away a slice of the business because of that.

I gave 50 per cent of it away. And that's been one of the biggest dilemmas for people reading the history of my company, 'How could you have done it?' Maybe I wouldn't be here talking today if I hadn't. I had no problem with it, because the accumulation of wealth is of no importance to me. Giving my wealth away, however, is of major importance to me - how I give it away, when I give it away, why I give away. So I had no problem with that, but, yes, 50 per cent is sitting in somebody else's pocket.

What was the trigger for the massive expansion of The Body Shop?

The trigger was self-financing. We didn't have any more money. Gordon came back and he said, 'We've got two stores, but how are we going to fund anybody else or anything else?' But luckily at that time people were coming along and saying, 'This is a good idea.' Women were coming to The Body Shop in Brighton and saying, 'I like this. I could do this. I could fill the bottles in the back, and hand-write the white labels.' It was like a cottage industry, but it was fun. We had this intimacy, and we were thankful if anybody came along. It wasn't until a couple of years later that we started to embrace the concept of franchising. Then, anybody would come along, put the products in the back of their car, and sell them from barges and market stalls. So the business really defined itself about four or five years later when we suddenly realized we'd found something unique. We created this market, even though we didn't know what marketing was.

So there was an organic growth about the business to start with.

Naivety was the thing that saved us. We didn't think that life was any more complicated than love and work. We could not take a moisture cream seriously. We didn't talk about our products as if they were the body and blood of Jesus Christ. We just had this wonderful idea that we had to tell stories, because the products were so bizarre. They had bits floating about in them. We used to tell people that there were black bits in the honey cleanser because the bees didn't clean their feet when they went back in to the hive. We had grace, we didn't tell lies. We didn't know you were encouraged to tell lies, which is so often the case in our industry.

When did all this formulate into a business plan?

We started to get really serious about five or six years later, especially when we opened up in Covent Garden. There was this new shopping experience occurring in England, which didn't solely include the big retailers. We suddenly realized we'd got something going here and that we had to take it seriously. But the real benchmark was when we decided to go public. We had to plan for two or three years, we had to check everything. We started to employ financial directors, we had to have a strategy plan. We had to grow up, we had to be professional, we had to have strong financial direction.

Did other people come in to put you on the right track?

Yes. The people who came in to help us with the flotation were very cautious - they wanted us to do it much faster. And we were cautious. I don't know any entrepreneur that will ever take risks. We were very cautious and we did it. It took us two years to prepare ourselves for that.

You clearly have regrets about going public.

Yes. My entire company is full of paradoxes and that's the hard thing. We would never have been where we are today if we hadn't. It was the most magnificent form of speedy growth. It was so important in the 1980s to get recognition, because you could not get prime sites in retailing unless you had. Going public was a major step towards respectability, and for that I am thankful. It gave us freedom, it gave us the chance to invest in our huge manufacturing plant. However, although the constraints of going public are not that bad, they're constant. You never had time to reflect and pause and say, 'Are we having fun? Do we want to grow this year? Why don't we just have more fun with our employees? Why don't we do more social activism?' So you never have that real freedom to be able to take the identity of your company - which is, in essence, your own identity - and form it into something else. You're structured by the profit-and-loss sheet.

It's the bottom line the whole time.

Yes, and there is such a tyranny in the bottom line.

And yet, isn't that bottom line important? Apart from the fact that it determines the share price of your company, it actually dictates the extent to which you can use your profits to invest in expanding the business, and indeed to do all the other things that you want to do?

I agree with you, but you have to have a belief that your shareholders are not your financial investors. You have stakeholders, your employees, and I am more loyal to my employees than to any other group. You also have your customers, your suppliers. All of these peoples' livelihoods depend on you, so I want to equalize that level of responsibility to the importance of the financial investor.

Many of the investors are speculators. They only put a few pounds in our company for a nanosecond. When one talks about profit, one had to ask, 'Profit for whom?' How do my employees profit? How do the customers profit? Why do we only define profit as a financial profit? If we are to become visionaries in business, we are going to have to redefine words like profit. Does the environment profit by this obsession for growth? I'm now on that treadmill, how can I make my growth more responsible? How can I move towards redefining the nature of business? It's a hard task to try and redefine that every day you're open for business.

Do you think that the business world is slowly moving towards accepting your ideas of this wider responsibility, rather than being a slave to the shareholders and the dividends?

Yes, I think so. When I was talking at Harvard ten years ago, I got the feeling that I was an alien. We've now managed to shape a master's degree with Bath University on businesses and responsibility, which deals with the real taboo subjects of global economy, of human rights, of international change, of redefining the workplace as a spiritual endeavour and so on. Wittgenstein once said, 'Words create worlds.' We have to define it first, and then we have to have brave companies, and there are many, to put that definition into practice.

They have to be brave though.

Yes. Because the financial press only know one form of measurement - money and size. Redefining it is going to be a hard thing.

But given those pressures from the press on new people starting up in business or medium-sized companies that are struggling to get there financially, can't you understand why some business people may say, 'Anita's got some great ideas, but frankly they're not for us, or not for us yet'?

So be it. I think that's the part of being a leader. I think that's being a visionary leader. It's about being brave. I measure my company each year on how brave we have been.

How do you judge that?

The bravest thing we have ever done is to challenge one of the biggest multi-nationals in the world, Shell. Never in the history of business has one company challenged another company on a moral landscape. We challenged their environmental and human-rights practices with the Ogoni people in Nigeria, because there is no code of conduct to govern a corporation, especially a trans-national corporation. And we challenged them - along with the might of their PR people who are able to diminish the nature of human rights, their responsibility, and the racism that goes with it. In businesses, the only wars one fights are for market share. No one has ever stood in an arena of human rights and tried to redefine that. People will say, 'What in the hell has this got to do with skin and hair care?' My argument is, 'If we don't do this, who will? ' That's being brave. Redefining the nature of the workplace is brave. In this country we are not good at bringing in child development centres which are attached to the workplace. The years under Mrs. Thatcher left us with the notion that women support the male bread-winners. Get real! It's all about survival. The family has to be supported. The child has to be protected, and the workplace has to be the area for it, because the government has no interest in that subject.

(Read the second half of this article here.)

Do you have a story about success you'd like to share? How do male and female attitudes toward success differ? Share your thoughts with me, and I'll publish the best responses here.



Topic : Entrepreneurship
Posted By : Anita
Posted On : September 9, 2003

 

 

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