UK: Success the Roddick way - BODY SHOP.

UK: Success the Roddick way - BODY SHOP. - Body and Soul.

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Body and Soul.

By Anita Roddick.

Ebury Press; 256pp; £12.99,

Review by Charles Darwent.

I have a regrettable confession to make. Anita Roddick shares with Richard Branson a capacity to make my flesh creep. It is something to do with unblushingly raking in the millions while at the same time making a great show of rejecting the mores of capitalism that gets (if Roddick will pardon the expression) one's goat. I had, accordingly, hoped for a Kitty Kellyesque expose, of a youthful Roddick forcing Capstan Full Strength cigarettes on fettered beagles, for example, or rubbing shampoo into bunnies' eyes. Perhaps the odd grainy photograph of her horsewhipping natives or upending barrels, clearly labelled 'effluent', into previously unsullied tropical rivers.

No such luck, unfortunately. The first thing that must be said about Body and Soul is that it's written by Ms Roddick herself, with the assistance (unspecified, for this is a one-woman book) of one Russell Miller. It is, as such, something of a confessional. Roddick bravely owns up to all sorts of character defects. She is, for example, impatient of bigotry.

Here she is on a trip to South Africa: 'In Johannesburg I got into trouble by going to a club on the wrong night. It was one of those places which had alternate nights for different races, but I didn't want to hear black jazz with a lot of white racists, so I went on a "black night". Of course I was picked up almost immediately by the police and given 24 hours to get out of the country'. Of course.

She also has an execrable lack of interest in money. Here is the Body Shop flotation: 'I really only started taking an interest in the flotation when it came to aesthetics. They (ie the 'guys in City suits using a lot of jargon I couldn't understand') wanted the offer brochure to be very sedate and boring. I told them I wanted it very bright and colourful and different from anything that had been done before. In the end, we did it ourselves; I was not going to compromise my aesthetic values for them.' Heaven forfend.

Quite what purpose is served by all this confessing remains some thing of a mystery. Body and Soul's apparent rationale is that it should act as a handbook for the enterprising New Age business, whose success will be based on the experience of the Body Shop. While conventional corporate autobiographies, like Lee Iacocca's tales of derring-do at Chrysler, are presumably bought by people who want tips on how to be ruthless and decisive, Roddick's is for people who would like to Do Very Well By Being Very (Very, Very) Nice.

It is, of course, necessary to define just what this niceness is. The trouble with the Roddick definition of being Nice is that it seems, to judge from her book at least, to preclude being someone who Does Well.

She makes great play with not being able to understand finance in any form, an unworldliness she sees as being inherited from her 'mum' (memorably described at one point as 'still being very paysanne in many ways'). People who understand money at all, according to the Roddick interpretation, are unlikely to be Nice.

People who have lots of it (unless their surnames begin with R) are positively Nasty.

The Body Shop was floated for £8 million in 1986, and is today worth about 65 times as much. This, if we are to judge Roddick by her own ethic, leaves us with two possibilities. Either she has not made as much money as we had thought, or she is not as Nice as she had hoped.

At any rate, the reader who buys Body and Soul in the hope of finding some sort of light on the road to corporate higher consciousness is inevitably going to be disappointed. Roddick makes no attempt to analyse the Body Shop experience in terms of applicable management science.

Indeed, her whole point is that her success is based on (dear God) 'zaniness', a corporate catastrophe theory which eschews such empiricism. Success, the Roddick way, lies in making your staff wear false moustaches, allowing Bedouin women to see your pubic hair, or Japanese women to squeeze your bosoms. O tempora, O mores! But is not an approach I can see going down well at Hanson.

Charles Darwen is a freelance writer.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Upcoming Events

Subscribe

Get your essential reading delivered. Subscribe to Management Today