Amid all the brouhaha over Anita Roddick's autobiography, "Body and Soul", one man will be keeping his usual discreet presence in the background. No, it won't be Gordon Roddick, Anita's other half, but Ian McGlinn, the mystery early backer of The Body Shop.
Ian who? one may ask. In fact McGlinn can probably lay claim to the title of Britain's most astute investor of the past decade or two. The £4,000 which he put into The Body Shop in 1976 for a then half share in the business is now worth the princely sum of £150,292,624.
But how was it that a Littlehampton garage owner made the fateful decision 15 years ago that would turn him into one of Britain's richest people? In her book, Roddick provides the answer. She needed £4,000 to open her second shop in Chichester and the bank simply refused to back her (how different would be the response to a request from her today). In desperation, a friend called Aidre, who had been helping in the first Body Shop in Brighton, said that her boyfriend, McGlinn, had some spare cash from his local garage operation, which he would invest for a half share in the business.
At the time husband Gordon was on his famous two-year walk-about in South America, so Anita wrote to tell him of the offer. By the time that he replied telling her "not to do it, not to give away half the company", it was too late. McGlinn was on board, and what a ride it has been (though clearly relations with the returned Gordon cannot have been all that cordial in light of the above advice).
When the company was floated on the stock market in 1984, McGlinn was worth some £4 million. Typically, he and Aidre (by this time his wife) avoided all the razzmatazz of the flotation by holidaying in Portugal, thus avoiding stealing any of the limelight. Aidre, who had been on the Body Shop board, also resigned from it just two months before the flotation.
Today, some £146 million richer, 50-year-old McGlinn has no less a penchant for the Howard Hughes lifestyle that he adopted earlier. At the Body Shop headquarters in Littlehampton, the word is that "the Roddicks meet with Mr McGlinn a couple of times a year. Being a major shareholder, he is kept up to date with developments." But no one, it appears, knows any more details about McGlinn's lifestyle. In Littlehampton itself, the local paper and local garages have no word about McGlinn. He has never given a single newspaper or magazine interview.
A trip to the Lloyds Bank registrar's department in nearby Worthing to study the Body Shop share register provides few clues. Ian Bentham McGlinn is duly registered with 52,366,768 shares, giving the address of Peter Careless of 36 High Street, Littlehampton. It appears that Careless is his solicitor and "although Mr McGlinn thanks you for your attention, no, he does not give interviews, and sorry, I can't comment on a client's affairs".
McGlinn's shareholding in The Body Shop is, of course, only matched by the Roddicks' combined stake of 51 million shares. Together they control around 56% of the equity, making The Body Shop invulnerable to a bid provided that all is sweetness and light between the three. But McGlinn must be under enormous temptation to cash in his shares and enjoy the proceeds. His 52 million shares may be worth £150 million, but in terms of dividends they only "earn" him somewhere in the region of £638,000 a year. Selling his stake would give McGlinn undreamed of liquidity.
Normally when major shareholders opt out of a business, their departure is greeted with an alarming lack of confidence in the business by the City, which marks the shares down accordingly. But McGlinn is in a unique position. He has never played any role in The Body Shop and has never been a director, so will not be regarded as a key team member by the City.
Moreover, if he did sell the shares, he would find willing buyers. Anita Roddick demonstrated her ability to buck the recession with profits up 38% to £20 million. Enquiries are no doubt welcome at 36 High Street, Littlehampton.