Books: A Deafening Manifesto - Business as Unusual by Anita Roddick. Thorson's pounds 17.99 - James Hanson has reservations about Anita Roddick's tub-thumping call for business to take the spiritual lead in the world, but finds some useful insights

Books: A Deafening Manifesto - Business as Unusual by Anita Roddick. Thorson's pounds 17.99 - James Hanson has reservations about Anita Roddick's tub-thumping call for business to take the spiritual lead in the world, but finds some useful insights - Unus

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Unusual is Anita Roddick's philosophy. With no lack of self-esteem, she regards herself as somewhere among Christ, Karl Marx and Keiko the Killer Whale. A business maverick who has set herself on the dangerous path of improving the world, her book bristles with controversial matters, some of which seem to have been invented for her own purposes.

Starting with the nomadic soul of the entrepreneur, she asserts that business should take the moral high ground spiritually and in society. OK, she soon questions the very reason for the existence of enterprise and sees women as the victimised minority, a theme she plugs mercilessly throughout.

The daughter of Italian immigrants in the small Sussex town of Littlehampton, there were four of 'us kids' who had to work in the family cafe every evening, weekend and holiday. On righting wrongs, she says: 'I became a shouter, a marcher. I drove my mother mad.' I can see that.

On her return from a trip abroad Roddick met her husband Gordon, who had expressed an interest in meeting her. She moved in with him eight days later. She set up Body Shop with no previous experience and collected toiletry recipes from every source, using little plastic bottles.

She describes the Body Shop as her child. Has this child of the '70s survived? Well, there are 1,700 shops worldwide, 437 of them company-owned, the rest franchised - an achievement to be admired by all business leaders, even those not on her list of favourite entrepreneurs.

However, it overbears the marks of her beliefs on idealism. 'Deep Thoughtfulness' is important. The book is sprinkled with messages and neat sayings that encapsulate her deep thoughts. Some are deeper than others: 'If a woman can decide who gets the last toffee, a four-year-old or six-year-old, she can negotiate any contract in the world.' Eh?

It's her manifesto for business for the future. Importantly, business must be a force for positive change. It must have reverence and spirituality, and dedication to social and environmental change in preference to making a profit and a return for shareholders. There have always been business philanthropists - Lord Leverhulme and Port Sunlight, George Cadbury and his Bourneville village, Joseph Rowntree and his foundations - but historical perspective is not Roddick's forte. She's keen to portray herself as having followed a road without signposts.

If she spends so much time on social causes and encourages her staff to do the same, does the business make money? It started with one shop in 1976, went public in 1984 at 102p, and the shares are now around 125p. A poor performance compared to the whole market, but the shares have been a lot higher and are still around. It made a loss in 1999 but is expected to make a profit of pounds 18 million in 2000.

This is not a manual on how you can run an international business and be an icon, but it has interesting insights. Roddick's own life mission statement, a passage from Walt Whitman, contains the words: 'Love the earth and sun ... despise riches.' The American poet, not the most obvious of business models, is best known for his book of poetry Leaves of Grass, viewed as so immoral that he was fired as a government clerk.

I agree mostly with Roddick's qualities for an entrepreneur: vision, instinct, ideas, optimism, knowledge, street savvy, creativity, craziness, the ability to mix and be a storyteller; but what I shall remember most are the contradictions. Being in business but disapproving of it; hating third world exploitation but sourcing products from there; wanting to rid the world of cosmetics and beauty companies but creating and running the Body Shop.

Business as Unusual is not as soothing perhaps as her peppermint foot lotion, nor as rejuvenating as a lettuce-and-avocado face mask. It's a rant. When I put it down, there was a glorious sense of peace. The person who had been barking in my ear about the injustices of the world, trying to make my blood boil with indignation, had left the room. Despite my reservations about her philosophy, however, it's well worth a read.

Lord Hanson is chairman emeritus of Hanson

ON THE BEDSIDE TABLE OF ... JOHN W HUNT

'I'm reading The English - A Portrait of a People, a fascinating explanation of what makes the English so English. Jeremy Paxman's erudition is impressive. Also The Character of Corporation by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, on how to build cohesion; and David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars.'

Professor Hunt is a writer and management consultant

Books reviewed here are available from bol.com (www.uk.bol.com) at a discount of 10% or more.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime