Editor praises Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop.
This month's cover story began as an interview with Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, for which editor Bo Burlingham and I traveled to Littlehampton, England, last November. Spending a day with her was an experience I will not soon forget. As we talked with Roddick, it became less and less clear that an interview was the best way to capture this most unusual company. What was clear, however, was that we were in the presence of an extraordinary company leader -- one who loved her job more than anyone I had ever seen before.
Over the years we've met many outstanding company builders and interviewed a good number of them about their management styles. We always find that some aspect of their companies really lights them up. One might become passionate about an education program, another about a new technology, still another about international operations, new-product development, or an innovative compensation plan. But never before had I seen a company builder who enjoyed every aspect of her job so thoroughly.
As we came to learn, Roddick has done something that even the most astute businesspeople find elusive. She has developed a company -- and a job for herself within that company -- that keeps her constantly enthralled. That is partly the result of fortunate circumstance. Although almost everything written about The Body Shop (including our story) focuses on Anita, she doesn't actually run the company. Her husband, Gordon, does. He is the one who decides when and how The Body Shop can afford to take advantage of the growth opportunities that Anita creates. That unusual relationship has allowed the company to avoid the classic pitfalls of growing businesses. Not coincidentally, it has also allowed Anita to avoid the classic fate of company founders forced to spend all their time dealing with the consequences of unplanned growth. Instead, she is free to focus on doing a job -- and playing a role -- that she loves.
There are many things she herself does to pull this off. For openers, she has defined a job broad enough and rich enough that she can't possibly get it done, and so she is never bored. She has also assembled a team of extremely capable assistants who understand her, think like her, and can work with her, and who thereby help her to extend her influence throughout the company. But, most important, she has thought clearly about what she loves to do, and this has allowed her to design her job accordingly.
I think that's where many other leaders get hung up. For whatever reason, they never allow themselves to think clearly about their own needs, about what they must do to remain happy and engaged. Perhaps they believe it would be selfish to focus on themselves. If so, they have an important lesson to learn from Anita Roddick. If nothing else, she has demonstrated that a company can benefit enormously from having a leader who is totally enthralled with her or his job. Indeed, that may just be the most important contribution a leader can make.