The Idol Life

Anita Roddick

As a young girl, starting a business was the last thing on Anita Roddick's mind. "I wanted to be an actress," she says.

Even when she began to pursue what would become The Body Shop, her environmentalism-minded skin- and hair-care company with more than 1,800 stores in 49 countries, Roddick's goal was not to be an icon. "My business was a response to the extravagance and waste of the cosmetics industry," she says.

Roddick opened her first shop in 1976 with 25 hand-mixed products, eventually franchising The Body Shop and then going public in 1984. The Body Shop now offers more than 1,000 items and reached sales of more than $1 billion in 2000/2001.

Blast From the Past
We wrote about Anita Roddick back in 1996. See what we had to say .

Though she no longer sits on The Body Shop's executive committee, Roddick still serves as co-chair, finds new products and keeps the company active in human rights, environmentalist and animal-protection issues.

In 1997, Roddick helped launch a master's degree program in conjunction with Bath University in England, with the aim of making business education more socially responsible. More recently, she established The Body Shop's Human Rights Award, which recognizes individuals and organizations that focus on social, economic and cultural rights.

The biggest challenge has been people's cynicism. "People feel there has to be an ulterior motive to The Body Shop's activism, as though our principles are a marketing ploy," Roddick laments.

Have the challenges affected Roddick's feelings about entrepreneurship? Not even slightly. "I don't think being an entrepreneur is something you question," says Roddick. "It's just something you are."

At press time, The Body Shop was considering buyout offers, but hadn't reached any decisions.

Entrepreneur: How do you define "entrepreneur"?
Anita Roddick: Entrepreneurs are obsessive visionaries, pathological optimists, passionate storytellers and outsiders by nature.

Entrepreneur: Who is your idea of an entrepreneurial icon?
Roddick: Ben and Jerry. They turned a $20 ice-cream-making course into a leading light of socially responsible business.

Entrepreneur: How do you keep your entrepreneurial spirit alive?
Roddick: [By being] experimental. Success is twin-edged: Managing success seems to kill the entrepreneurial spirit. So to maintain it, you must keep on experimenting.

Entrepreneur: What was your dream when you started out?
Roddick: My business was a response to the extravagance and waste of the cosmetics industry. I [felt] there were plenty of people like me hungry for an alternative.

Entrepreneur: What's your legacy?
Roddick: The future is being shaped by the forces of global business, so I would hope that I've helped change the vocabulary and practice of business, and contributed to the awareness that it can and must be a force for positive social change.

Related Books

Aliza Sherman is a web pioneer, e-entrepreneur and author of eight books, including

PowerTools for Women in Business.

Her work can be found at

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This article was originally published in the January 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Idol Life.

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