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


This is the second half of an interview of me by Martyn Lewis from his book Reflections on Success:

Martyn Lewis: Do you think that every successful business person has to accept some form of sacrifice about their personal life? Does there have to be a degree of dedication that drives you forward, that almost inevitably squeezes out the things you would like to do to have a totally fulfilling relationship with your partner?

Anita Roddick: I think, if you're a woman you see it differently because we've always juggled. We've juggled work with the kids, with our husbands. Traditionally we are the nurturers and the support for the male bread-winner. It's no big deal.

However, for men, the components of business are sexy. It's like fresh flesh. It's new ideas, a new force, a new discussion, and it embodies the male collegiate sense of relationships. And men do not discuss feelings. They will not stand up in a meeting and say, 'I'm going home to my kids, I've spent too much time here.' Secondly, the workplace becomes a new community and that's another seduction, it compensates for the loss of community on a social scale. My neighbour is no longer the person who lives next door to me, it's the neighbour of interests. If only businesses weren't so seductive we'd spend more time with our partners. We live in a culture that measures us through work and diminishes the family. Until we stop measuring men or women as an entity of production, and start to measure people for the production of the human spirit, of which the family is important, we're always going to have this sacrifice.

As The Body Shop expanded and moved into America, you had a huge amount of praise and then, suddenly, there was this article in Business Ethics, a small circulation magazine of 14,000, which rocked you back on your heels. Now what was your reaction, a) when that article appeared? And b) what did you decide to do about it?

Well, we had a corporate stalker! This is not just a man who wrote an article because he felt he had something to say. He was a man who wanted to challenge the very heart of our business. If my company was a woman he'd be up in front of the High Court. Even as we speak, he's trying to get articles in The Guardian. I don't know where he comes from, and I don't know the source of his income, all I know is his wife is vice-president of marketing for our biggest competitor in America.

It was the saddest time in my life because this article was placed in a friend's publications - we're all part of the Social Responsibility Movement in America - and she thought it was juicy enough and put it in because I reckon she needed to raise the circulation! The article was scathing, it was appalling. We tried to counteract the allegations made but we were seen as defensive. This huge web of assumptions was built around us, and we had to fight our way out of it.

What was more intriguing was what happened in England. We had 150 articles about us within a week - more than Bosnia/ we had BBC TV, we had ITV we had cameras, we had microphones. What were they looking for? Three gallons of shampoo that were leaked out into pipes in New Jersey. This is nothing compared to what goes on. It was the juiciest story they could find and we couldn't get our hear around it. It was our darkest time because we lived on our radical reputation.

Did you see everything going down the tubes?

God no. I just thought, 'Here we go again.'

Are you saying that if you're up there with your head above the business parapet you've got to expect to be attacked?

Absolutely. If you're challenging the notion of business as we do, if you're talking about redefinition of terminologies that are really uncomfortable - philosophical terminologies, spiritual terminologies - you're going to wear the biggest bull eye on your back, because people will want to find anything about you that smacks of hypocrisy.

So how did you tackle it?

It was really interesting. We were camping out on the floor of our offices because our communication department had to be open 24h hours a day. We had to curb these stories which were going out internationally. I found intimacy was the only way to keep my sanity and my sense of reality. I wrote intimate faxes to every shop. It was like a diary of how I felt - how I had to rush out and get some pizzas, how we were campaigning out on the floor. I got letters back from our stores in Colorado, Taiwan, everywhere. That sense of being a family gave me great support. It was like grieving, and people were saying, 'Don't grieve, this is all right.'

That handles the emotional side, what did you do about the allegations?

We challenged them word for word, line by line. What was profoundly helpful for us, at that time, was the support that we had from Greenpeace, from Friends of the Earth, from Jonathon Porritt and Sara Parker. The people whose opinions we really valued were the people who understood the real essence of the values inherent in our company. We were amazed by the support.

Do you feel you've come through that now?

Yes. Now that people understand the pathology of the man who wrote the article. They understand where he comes from and what his agenda is.

Did you have a strategy for dealing with the media for countering all this? Because, as you say there were articles, or news reports, which were fairly hostile.

Yes, we had a great strategy, but it didn't appear to do us any good. For the first time in our lives we had to do reputation management. And when you're coming from a company like ours, its whole brand is its reputation, and its values. We had to learn fast. We had to deal with the detail, the minutiae, because this man was going back 20 years, inventing scenarios and making assumptions. People hated the fact that we defended ourselves. We lost our credibility, because we had been too defensive, it looked as though we could not handle criticism. I'm still confused about it all three years later, and yet, to this day, I would defend my company in exactly the same way against such an obsessive person.

Do you think that personal publicity is a help or a hindrance? Should one person by hugely identified with a company in the way that you have been, and have you taken any steps to diminish that link?

That's a really good question. It's the nature of our society that everything is personalized, we have to put a person up on a pedestal. The dark side to all this is that the personal becomes the political, that every issue I deal with personally filters through to The Body Shop. And when you're a woman, and this is true, you're diminished because you're not listened to. I try to distance myself from that. But there are many more voices in the company that just mine.

Even with regard to long-term business interests?

Well, I don't know. The company is my baby. The company is brave because I want it to be brave and the people in the company are there to support that braveness. We attract some wonderful thinkers. The other side to that question is, are you going to get out and retire? The answer to that is, no. Nobody else will employ me! The Body Shop has become such an integral part of my identity, it's my blueprint.

Have you ever got to the stage where you thought, 'Things are so grim I've got to give up, I've got to go and try something else'?

My husband will say, 'When are we going to start having more fun again? When are we going to lighten up and be less tense?' The dilemma for me is that I don't know how to differentiate between enthusiasm and stress. I find it hard. My husband keeps on saying, 'Let's be a bit detached. We've got so many juicy projects, so much human rights campaigning to do.' But at the moment I don't feel I can do that, and when I do feel I can let go, then maybe I will. At the moment it's all so tense and vibrant.

You went through a phase when some of your franchisees got a bit twitchy. How did you deal with that?

Intimacy again. As with love and relationships, when they want to leave, the exit should be as magnificent and wonderful as the entry.

But can that make up for the bottom line which they were looking at for the profit margin?

No, but you can have a sense of care. A lot of them came in the 1980s and achieved huge amount of wealth. A lot of it just went out the door in the 1990s when reality checked in. I believe we should always try to buy back if they're unhappy, that has to be our mantra. But you cannot account for people's expectations.

You once said, 'It's obscene to die rich,' Do you believe that everybody who is successful has an obligation to put something back into society?

Yes. If we have influence and power, and if there is a media interest, for God's sake let's make sure that the words and the ideals that come out of our mouths are beyond our own self-aggrandizement. If you keep wealth, it's like water in a vase, it gets stale. There is no greater merit than in giving the whole damn stuff away. My kids are happy, my kids are well-adjusted. They have a notion of responsibility towards money, but they want to be part of a foundation into which we will put our money and give it away.

There are a lot of dark sides to success, but the light side of it is the ability to be opportunistic, and to be able to do things. Take Bosnia for example, what more can I do there than to be able to give money to the people I know to provide dozens of wheelchairs or fund the Human Rights Watch office in the Hague or in Croatia. The one thing I have in abundance is money, and I want to give it to that. I can't have another house or another pair of jeans - that's the joy of it all.

What do you regard as your biggest failure, and more importantly, how did you recover from it?

That's really hard, because I'm an optimist. I see all failures as an ability to shape things. I never see them as failures, they are just opportunities. My biggest failure at the moment is not finding ways to be heard in my own company. It's to do with how the company that I formed and shaped really doesn't match up to the company I started. It is big, it is powerful in terms of persuasion. It is very patriarchal. It has very much the culture of a company that manufactures and distributes. The creativity, the genie in the bottle that keeps on spurting out and vomiting out new ideas, and the speed of those ideas is really very hard for me. Often the ideas that I have are not heard.

But you're the boss.

No I'm not. That's another great myth. I am a voice in the company. I, too, can get marginalized or be ignored.

But you're saying you don't have power.

I don't because it's a democratic process. There is this creative web over the company which shapes it's identity. I've shaped its values, and that's an area that I have not given up, but shaping the business strategy is not just down to me. As an entrepreneur I said, 'We've got to reinvent.' But it's very hard to be heard because you have a Board that is very mechanistic and functional, but not necessarily visionary. It's a huge problem for me to look at the company, my baby, and say, 'Is this what I gave birth to?' You end up having to ambush your own company, to use guerrilla tactics to be heard. It's been a fantastically creative experience, but for the last two or three years I've had a sense of real diminishment in terms of being heard.

So, although you have this fantastic energy and you're constantly bubbling with ideas, there's got to be an element of control that says, 'Anita, you can't do this, you can't do that.' So although you might regard that as a failure, it is actually good for The Body Shop.

Well, you might say so, but I wouldn't. I would say that we should have redesigned the shops four years ago and not now. We should have extended the brand. There have been lots of discussions, but we're a company that is shaped by a very strong traditional presence, which has a different idea of how things should evolve.

Does luck play a part in success?

I'm not sure. Opportunism does. I don't understand luck. I don't think that I've been lucky.

Being in the right place at the right time, getting an early loan, finding a partner?

Is that luck? I don't know. In 1976 nobody could have spelt the word environmentalism. We just had an antenna out there and knew who were the forerunners in the planet. The real wisdom-seekers of the planet were the environmental groups, and we just listened, and still do- - they give us direction. We're opportunistic. We see an opportunity and go with it, but I don't think luck plays any part in our success.

Are there any people, past or present, whom you really admire as being successful?

People that are successful in my eyes are not necessarily people who have been financially successful. I admire those people who have managed their lives and their work. People who have succeeded in business, but who still have a sense of familiarity with their children and with the community Terence Conran, for example, seems to have a great time in his kitchen with lots of home-made vegetables, and looks really happy. It's all to do with family, the balance between that and work.

Is image important to success?

I think so. For me the image of the company is really important. What people perceive when they think about us. My image is really important. I don't want to be seen as a cosmetic diva, wearing high heels and hobbling around with 18 inches of make-up. I want to be seen as an activist and approachable.

What do you think are the greatest enemies of success?

Lethargy, assumption.

What do you mean by assumption?

That you don't learn from the past. The past should shape you thinking and your ability to reinvent yourself. Inability to do that is one of the greatest enemies to success - you need to be separate from the human condition. One of the great dangers of success, certainly if that success brings wealth, is that you're divorced from human suffering and the reality of our world planet, poverty. Wealth dehumanizes you. You can have anything you want. The true enemy to success, for me, is the inability to understand how the world is.

In pursuit of success, have you ever done anything you wish you hadn't done?

Yes. Being so open to the press. I always think they will take me as I am, with the honesty that I offer and there will not be any manipulation.

But there is an argument that says any publicity is good publicity?

Well, that's an argument I do not believe in because the consequences can be incredibly painful.

Let me put to you a quote from The Independent. It talked about you and Gordon and said, 'You represent causes attractive to the liberal conscience, yet this goodness is used remorselessly to sell vanity products. You wash your hair in global concern and it is debatable whether the wizened peasants on the walls are dignified or patronized.' Now that's strong stuff, how do you react to that?

We just think, 'Here's another journalist that's cashing in on cuteness.'

Responsibility and thoughtfulness are benchmarks for us. We have worked with tribal groups for ten years trying to shape relationships. We don't get customers coming in because of that. We did some focus groups in America, and 90 per cent because 'it was in the air.' They come in work that we do behind the scenes, or in the stores, is about campaigning for human rights - it's an area that no other company wants to deal with.

But that helps your business concern as well, doesn't it?

It helps us shape a sense of empathy. I would guarantee that a huge percentage of our staff would walk out the door tomorrow if we were just like any other cosmetic company.

But when you get criticism like that, what's the inner mechanism you have inside you to deal with it?

First of all, it's the knowledge that you know the criticism is not true. The sense that what drives you forward is something beyond yourself, and that it has been the passion since day one. Secondly, the support from the people whose opinions you respect.

And they are better barometers than the media?

Oh yes, because the media have got to have a story that will sell - it has to be verbally cute or cynical.

If you could gather together all the young people in the world who took up to you as someone whom they would like to become, what advice would you give them?

First of all, keep it simple, ask questions - constantly ask questions. Look to people you admire and go straight to them and say, 'How do I do it, what advice can you give me?' We don't help in this country. We don't care about the young kids. I would encourage them to knock on the doors of people who could help them, with their skills or with their ideas. Secondly, if they want to set up their own companies, don't think 'business', think 'livelihoods'. We're being paralysed by the notion of setting up your own companies, or setting up your own business, forget that word. Think in terms of 'How can I have a livelihood that gives me independence, freedom of spirit, and where I don't have to rely on anybody for a job?'

It's got to mean your own company, hasn't it?

Well, it doesn't have to. The word company has all sorts of other connotations. Finding a skill or an interest, and then setting it up. Asking yourself what the world needs and what the world does not need. The world does not need another electric toothbrush, the world needs socially responsible services and products. They say to yourself,' How am I different from the person down the road that's doing this? You just find out what your differences are and shout them from the rooftops. That's a simplistic equation, but you constantly need to ask questions, to research, to go into libraries, to ring up the editors of magazines or newspapers and just know on does.

When your time comes to leave this life, what would you like people to say about you?

She challenged with enthusiasm.

What about your husband's epitaph for you?

He said it should be, 'Don't hang up yet, I haven't finished talking.'

He calls me that Great Blur, because he says, 'How does somebody with such short legs walk so fast?' You know that awful story of the person who died and was about to be buried and woke up again? I think I'd say, 'Check before you bury me.'

And what about your famous mosquito slogan?

Oh yes! If you think you're too small to be effective, try going to bed with a mosquito!


(Read the first half of this interview 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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"If business comes with no moral sympathy, or honorable code of behavior, God help us all." -- Anita Roddick


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