The greatest Briton: Anita Roddick

If the BBC can do it, so can Personnel Today. We want to know which Briton you
rate as the greatest people manager and leader of all time. Personnel Today has
invited 10 leading figures in the field of management to nominate individuals
they believe are the best, and then convince you they are right. To vote,
visit the voting form where you will also find summaries of all 10
The voting closes on Tuesday 4th March 2003.

This week’s nominee is:

Anita Roddick

By Max Mckeown, corporate activist and author of leading management book

I was torn between nominating Anita Rod-dick and the warrior queen Boadicea,
but then it hit me – they are probably the same person reincarnated a couple of
thousand years later.

Hear me out: both were inspired to become revolutionary people leaders
through a mixture of pragmatic self-interest and personal outrage.

Admittedly, Boadicea’s drivers were more fundamental. She waged war on the
Romans after the rape of her daughters, death of her husband, and their
constant pillaging of her land, whereas Roddick was inspired by the departure
of her husband on a two-year horseback adventure, irritation with the cosmetic
industry and the desire to "feed the kids".

But there are further similarities – both are physically startling. The
Greek writer Deo tells us that Boadicea had ‘a mass of the tawniest, red hair
hanging to her waist, and in appearance almost terrifying with a fierce
expression, and a harsh voice destined to demand attention above the din of

Roddick has similarly been described as sucking the oxygen out of a room
when she is in full flow. One journalist recounts Roddick’s visit to a US
BodyShop outlet: "Dominated by a mass of wild, curly hair, she circles the
shop floor issuing compliments and critiques while staffers bustle to keep up.
‘Brilliant!’ she pronounces over a display of facial creams. ‘Fantastic!’ for a
pyramid of hair conditioner. But a tray of hair clips is ‘Tacky! Get rid of
those.’ Later she sweeps into a meeting of store managers: ‘Right!’ she barks
to them. ‘What pisses you off?’."

Both also blazed trails for women. Boadicea created the idea that women
could be strong leaders, and inspired such greats as Queen Elizabeth I, Joan of
Arc, and Emily Pankhurst, while Roddick has become a definitive female role
model. In a recent BBC poll to find the most important UK business leaders, she
was one of only two women on the list – the other was Edith Baxter (of soup
giant Baxter’s Soup fame).

She once said: "My greatest hope is to reach a level where I can
absolutely inspire young people, mostly female, to have a voice."

She launched BodyShop in 1976, with a £4,000 loan, at a time when women
started to pour into the labour force. But while many of them attempted to push
upwards into management by being more male than men, Roddick is a visible
example of woman who purposefully managed as a woman.

She is a people leader by choice. Her key business goal is to: "Take
the money and turn it into something beyond profit for shareholders, shape a
company’s dynamics and the consciousness of the people you employ. I’m too
intelligent to think people I employ go home dreaming about moisture

But Roddick is no peacemaker, and her breathless, political style can be
daunting to those who are not like her.

Asked once about staff motivation, she pointed out that 90 per cent of her
employees worked as they needed to support themselves. "You can’t fire
them for being boring; you can’t fire someone if they are not political. What you
do is say you will have the best working conditions, sabbatical time, a
child-development centre."

Her attacking style creates enemies, such as her call for direct action
against such brands as Esso and Nike – she even marched in the
anti-globalisation protest in Seattle in 1999.

She has also provoked criticism for exaggerating the BodyShop story and
playing up its standards and achievements. Yet, it is this story that motivates
her customers, staff and supporters. It creates a purpose higher than selling
cosmetics. As she puts it: "If the leader is only saying we want to be the
biggest or the most profitable company in the world, forget it. When you do
that, there’s no leadership."

The BodyShop dream attracts and mobilises people. The staff wrote the BodyShop
charter and their efforts have established a profitable, $1bn (£0.6bn) company,
with 1,500 stores in 47 countries, a top-50 brand, a respected company, and a
campaigning force to be reckoned with – whether saving whales, introducing
paternity leave, or giving staff time off to work on community projects.

Roddick stood down from the board last year and retains a 25 per cent
shareholding. The multi-millionaire is at a crossroads: does she stand and
fight, defending BodyShop against newly organised competitors? Or does she lead
people in new and greater ways, moving beyond peppermint foot lotion to the
causes of fair trade, equality, and integrity?

Boadicea’s story ended abruptly – after she suffered her first defeat she
poisoned herself to avoid further failure.

Roddick, however, is looking for a more positive legacy.

"I will do all I can to campaign for human rights, abused and ignored
by trade rules, which focus only on profits – no matter what the human
cost," she says. "The most exciting part of my life is now – I
believe the older you get, the more radical you become.

"There’s a quote I identify with: ‘A woman in advancing old age is
unstoppable by any earthly force’."

Long live Queen Roddick, the Greatest Briton in Management and Leadership.

Roddick’s CV

1942 Anita Roddick is born in

1963 Starts teaching, but soon becomes a researcher for the
United Nations on women’s rights and travels the world

1969 Becomes a mother, eventually has two daughters and marries

1976 Opens first BodyShop with £4,000 loan

1985 BodyShop floated and continues to expand internationally  

1998 Steps down as chief executive

2002 Steps down from the board, but retains 25 per cent share,
saying she will campaign for human rights

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