The Woman CEO Who Changed My Life -- and the Lessons She Taught Me About Business Success
Have you ever crossed paths with a person at just the right moment, after which your life would never be the same?
I have. The year was 1992. I was in the darkest period of my life. Three years before, I was at the height of my financial and business success when everything came crashing down. Battling a life-threatening illness, unable to work for over five years, forced to liquidate all my assets, I went into serious debt to keep a roof over my head and pay medical expenses.
The deepest pain of all was realizing that I had sold my soul for the trappings of external success. Success left me feeling empty. I didn't know who I was anymore.
Then, a trailblazing woman entrepreneur/activist came into my life. Little did I realize, my life and business would never be the same.
That woman was Anita Roddick, founder and CEO of The Body Shop. I was first introduced to Roddick through her book, Body and Soul: Profits with Principles. At the same time, I was writing my own book about other powerful businesswomen also defying the odds. As synchronicity would have it, I learned that Roddick would be making a rare speaking appearance at a business women's conference in Los Angeles.
Without hesitation, I booked a flight to L.A. for the sole purpose of asking Roddick to write the forward of my book. Not only did she agree, but I got to hug and thank the very person who still inspires me today to build a business grounded in purpose, passion and principles. Here's why.
The start of a new entrepreneurial era
In Brighton, England, in 1976, Roddick opened a small shop to pay the bills and to support her young family. Building an empire was never part of her dream at that time. What was front and center in her business were the causes and principles she believed in. She built a business uniting social and human rights with environmental protection and animal welfare.
With such principles as the driving force of the company, The Body Shop became the first business ever to utilize a conscious capitalism strategy -- that is, "doing well by doing good." She proved a business committed to a better world could also make a profit.
These concepts were groundbreaking in the 1970s, often ridiculed by corporations. Forty years later, mainstream businesses globally are following in Roddick's footsteps.
What Roddick taught me about business success
While the list of lessons one can learn from Roddick's example are endless, below are the ones most pivotal in my life.
1. Never sell my soul for financial ambition. Never compromise my values for external success.
When I started my business in 1985, I was addicted to achieving higher levels of success. Yes, such an addiction exists. It fed my ego and gave me a false sense of importance.
I had to lose everything to find myself and the ideals that mattered most to me. That Roddick could build a business on her personal values and beliefs inspired me to recommit to my true path and once again embark on my own "road less traveled."
Does your business embody the beliefs for which you stand? Do your achievements feed or compromise your soul?
2. Define my own yardstick of business success and the bottom line.
Traditional "measurements" of success -- even today -- are tailored to a male worldview. As a former mathematician, numbers still have a place in my business, just not as the fundamental yardstick.
Roddick helped me to see the bigger questions concerning the concept of profits and to challenge a redefinition. As Roddick articulated in an interview with BBC journalist Martyn Lewis for his book, Reflections on Success: "When one talks about profit, one has to ask, 'Profit for whom?' How do my employees profit? How do the customers profit? Why do we only define profit as a financial profit?"
For the past 30 years, my definition of business profitability is guided by one question: What is for the highest and best good of everyone? Bottom line, if I can honestly say "everyone profits" from every decision and step I take, then my business is a success.
Does your yardstick of success serve the greater good?
3. Own and leverage my emotions as the driving force in my business.
When I started my career in the mid 1970s, I was one of the few women in a male-dominated environment. Women were ingrained to believe that we had to walk, talk and act like men to achieve success.
It was a taboo to show any emotions. You were labeled as weak, unable to handle the pressure and inferior to men if you did.
Roddick taught me the polar opposite -- how my emotions are strengths, not weaknesses, in the business world. Her passion, burning enthusiasm and authentic caring were the secret sauce that drove her company to dizzying heights.
Contrary to the times, Roddick's leadership style was personal, empowering and nurturing. Here again, Roddick was ahead of her time: "Business practices would improve immeasurably if they were guided by "feminine" principles -- qualities like love, care and intuition."
To what extent is caring a way of business for you?
4. Let my business be a catalyst for change -- no matter how controversial.
Even though Roddick sold The Body Shop to L'Oréal in 2006 (and it's now owned by Natura) and passed away in 2007, her legacy is much bigger than her natural products, her company and even her achievements.
Her mission was to make business a powerful force for good at a time when companies' primary reason for existence was to make money. Her company was the conduit for the change she wanted to see in the world. And she succeeded in epic proportions.
Like Roddick, I have built my business for over 30 years to do my part to change the leadership consciousness in the business world. Yet, the greatest gift of all was the courage she gave me to live my truth at a time when I had lost my way.
I wish I could tell her, "Anita, for the impact you made on my life when I needed it the most, I thank you from my heart. For the mark you made on the world, I am deeply grateful."
Who inspires you in your business? What will be your legacy for generations to come?