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  Home  > Work �>�Biography: Anita Roddick, Body Shop  

Anita Roddick's life and work was all about storytelling. Legends and myths and stories that connect us and give us a sense of global community while prompting us to buy her Body Shop skin and hair products. The stories she told of the causes she supported or natural ingredients she used in her cosmetics brought her a net worth estimated at more than $200 million, making her one of England's wealthiest women.

The beginnings were humbler. The former chairman and founder of The Body Shop was born in 1942 and raised in the Southeast of England, near Brighton. Her Italian immigrant mother and American father ran a cafe here early on, Roddick says, she was instilled with an intense work ethic. "Any immigrant, you watch what they do with their kids. It's like legitimate child labor. From day one we were working in the cafe. There was no leisure; we don't understand leisure. The work ethic is so profound within the immigrant culture." Roddick's parents divorced when she was 8 and her mother married her first husband's cousin.

At ten, Roddick came across her first life-altering story. SheAnita Roddick in the Wisdom of Caring Leaders Video Training got her hands on a Penguin Book about the Holocaust that contained photographs of concentrations camps. Her emotional reaction to what she read and saw "kick-started me into a sense of outrage or sense of empathy with the human condition."

That same year her stepfather died. Nine years later her mother had another story to tell that would profoundly affected Roddick. "My mom told me who my father was and it happened to be my Uncle Henry who was her second husband. Her first husband went to the grave not knowing that the final two kids were not his. So here she is telling me, this amazing story of romantic love. It's not going to shape me into being a sort of calm, meek little mouse."

In 1962 Roddick got a scholarship to study in a kibbutz in Israel. There, she says, the stories of political leaders like Castro and Che Guevera "were our vision." It was no wonder when I set up my own little enterprise I was going to do things differently." Roddick returned to England after a prank got her expelled from the kibbutz. After holding several jobs, she took some savings and traveled through Tahiti, New Hebrides, New Caledonia, Australia and on to Johannesburg, her last stop. She was expelled from South Africa after going to a jazz club on black night, violating apartheid laws.

When she returned to England she met Gordon Roddick and the two were married in 1971, while she was pregnant with their second child. The couple owned and ran a restaurant and eight-room hotel and before long they felt overworked and needed a change of direction. With her approval, Gordon went off to ride a horse from Buenos Aires to New York City and Anita was left to support herself and her two children.

Out of a need for survival, Roddick concocted cosmetics from "every little ingredient with a story" that she had stored in her garage. She opened her first shop in Brighton with just 15 products, which she packaged in "five sizes so at least it looked like I had at least 100."

Asked why she chose skin care, Roddick replies: "Because it's storytelling. [In] every group I have spent time with, women will always corral around a well and tell stories about the body, birth, marriage and death. Men only have conversations or memories about their first shave. But women will always use the body as a canvas, a playground. Even when they were taken to the gallows, women would always want to put some makeup on." The shop was thriving and by the time her husband returned from his 10-month trek, she had opened a second store and customers were asking if they could start their own Body Shop branches. The Roddicks set up a system of franchises.

The Body Shop developed a reputation for supporting social and environmental causes, but Roddick bristled at the notion that The Body Shop was a cause marketer. The Body Shop's activism "is not about marketing. This is not about one penny being spent in so-called cause-related marketing which is disingenuous. This is about having a passion to shout out and be persuasive about what you do."

And it's about telling the story. Roddick knew stories sell. "Sure they do," she agreed, "if they are authentic. In every pre-industrial group I have ever traveled with and been with, storytelling is the basis of their education. It is about the myths and legends. It's about what makes you divine, what separates you."

And it's a sense of separation that Roddick said made her an entrepreneur. "If there is a criticism about my character,  which is a legend in England, it's that [I suck] the breath out of you. But it's just an energy of ideas. Most entrepreneurs, good entrepreneurs, have been immigrants. We are outsiders. We don't dance to the same drum beat."

Gary Hamel, author of Leading the Revolution, agrees with Roddick's self-assessment. "She is absolutely an outsider. I mean if you listen to her, she is filled with vitriol around the traditional practices of the cosmetic's industry. I have always believed that industries don't get reinvented by profits, but they get reinvented by heretics. People who can see the dogma, see the orthodoxy and then ask why, turn those things upside down."

And in doing that, creating your own story.

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