Anita Roddick, the visionary and outspoken co-founder of The Body Shop International, died Monday in Chichester, West Sussex, in England, of a brain hemorrage. Previously, she had disclosed that she was suffering from Hepatitis C contracted 36 years ago. Her husband Gordon, the co-founder of the Body Shop, and her daughters Justine and Sam, were by her side when she died.
In a statement, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, "She will be remembered not only as a great campaigner but also as a great entrepreneur."
Roddick, who started her company in 1976, was the subject of numerous articles in Inc. over the years, and she frequently visited with the magazine's staff when visiting the U.S. "Anita was like a force of nature," recalls Bo Burlingham, an editor at large at the magazine. "The first time she came to our office to meet everyone it was like we had been hit by a tornado."
When one reporter asked her whether the company tested its skincare products on rabbits or other animals, she wryly commented, "No, we prefer to test them on the Welsh."
Later, Burlingham was given extraordinary permission by Inc. to serve on the board of directors of the Body Shop's U.S. operations, an experience that he credits with profoundly deepening his understanding of entrepreneurship and the struggles of running a fast-growing company. The last time Burlingham heard from Roddick was in February 2006, when she wrote to him to talk about a cover story he had just written, adapted from his book Small Giants. "She joked that if she had read it years ago, she might not have gone public," Burlingham says.
The tension between scale and success versus authenticity and ethical conduct was a recurring theme in Roddick's business career. She was, along with Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's and Paul Hawken of Smith and Hawken, at the vanguard of the socially responsible business movement that gained worldwide attention in the 1980s and early 1990s--a movement that served in a real sense as an alternative to the junk bond, go-go spirit of the era.
"I think a lot of us would have slit our wrists if we ever thought we'd be part of corporate America or England," she told me in 2001. "Big business was alien to me. What I wanted to do was create a livelihood, and I think women are quite good at that -- probably better than blokes. We mush up an interest and a skill, and that's a livelihood."
Even as she rebelled against the money culture of the time, Roddick was a part of it. When the Body Shop went public and became (for a time at least) a high-flying stock, she found herself in the surprising position of being both an outspoken activist and a person who was easily identifiable as one of the richest self-made women in the world. This spirit was captured in a 1990 cover story on Roddick, written by Burlingham, that was headlined "This Woman Has Changed Business Forever." (To read the article, click here.)
As the years went on, watchdogs pointed out ways in which the Body Shop was not as benevolent as Roddick made it seem, and the criticism infuriated her. She was much more willing to admit to being a bad manager than a bad steward of social causes. She believed the Body Shop's subsequent struggles were a function of poor hiring practices and a lack of understanding of the U.S. commercial real estate market.
"The significant thing about Anita is that, along with Ben and Jerry and Paul Hawken, she was part of a generation of CEOs who put the issue of social responsibility on the map," says Burlingham. "And for all the mistakes that group made, and there were many, a lot of stuff happened later because they did what they did."