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Business World Mourns The Body Shop's Anita Roddick

Roddick used her global chain of cosmetics stores to put social responsibility on the map.
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Dame Anita Roddick, the outspoken entrepreneur who built The Body Shop into a retail fixture around the world, is being remembered for what many say will be her true lasting legacy -- pioneering a movement of socially responsible business practices.

The energetic Roddick, whose chain of stores embodied much more than the cosmetics and beauty products they sold, died from a brain hemorrhage on Monday, her family said. She was 64.

"She was an extraordinary woman, and an extraordinary woman who was in business and a CEO when there weren't a lot of women in business," said Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham, a longtime friend of Roddick's. "Anita's a force of nature."

From the time she opened her first store in 1976, the British-born entrepreneur challenged the traditional business model by offering refillable containers and detailed labeling for products -- out of fiscal necessity at first but also as a result of her own beliefs, as she stated in her brief online autobiography.

Roddick also believed in nurturing employees and including them in something larger than selling people a product. "You want them to feel that they're doing something important, that they're not a lone voice, that they are the most powerful, potent people on the planet," Roddick told Inc. in a June 1990 feature. "I'd never get that kind of motivation if we were just selling shampoo and body lotion."

Although Roddick sometimes claimed to know little about running a business, those close to her knew differently. "She sort of came across in public as not being interested in the business parts of business," said Burlingham, who once served on The Body Shop's board of directors. "But I sat on board meetings with her and she was a very smart businesswoman."

The Body Shop went public in 1984 and was sold to the L'Oreal Group in 2006, although it still operates independently. It now encompasses more than 2,100 stores in 55 countries.

However, friends and colleagues said they will remember Roddick as much for her social activism as for her business success. "It didn’t just have to be about money," said Shelley Simmons, director of public relations for The Body Shop for the Americas, who worked with Roddick for the past seven years. "It could be about changing the world too."

"She regarded business as a platform," Burlingham added. "The success of The Body Shop gave her a platform to play a role in issues she cared very deeply about."

Along with her husband Gordon and The Body Shop, Roddick threw her weight behind a number of causes over the years -- everything from maintaining indigenous cultures in Brazil to saving the whales with Greenpeace to protesting business practices by corporate giants like Exxon-Mobil.

"You can't take away the fact that she played a critical role in changing the priorities of a lot of businesses," Burlingham said.

When asked what he would remember most about Roddick, Burlingham said simply, "Her laugh. She had a wonderful infectious laugh, and a wonderful sense of humor."

While Roddick had not been the official head of The Body Shop for several years, it remained very much her company until her passing on Monday.

"Every aspect of it is Anita," Simmons said. "It's going to be a strange world without her."

Last updated: Sep 11, 2007




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