Read the headline again. Shouldn’t that be “business
as usual”? Well, no, because when Dame Anita Roddick mounted the podium in
the auditorium of the Faculty of Business Administration at CMU, all of us
knew we would not hear from yet another business leader telling us how she
‘made it’, and certainly not in the ‘usual’ way. There’s nothing
usual about Anita Roddick.
of the CMU faculties, Dame Anita Roddick (2nd right) and Mr. Christian
(right) from the International Peace Foundation in Bangkok.
A featured speaker in the ‘Bridges: Dialogues Towards a
Culture of Peace’ series, sponsored by the International Peace Foundation,
Anita Roddick challenged every assumption that business students learn as
mantra. And the audience loved it! A packed house of CMU faculty, staff, and
students, plus an animated ex-pat presence made this an exciting and
Dynamic, passionate, and totally committed, are the only
words for the founder of the phenomenally successful enterprise The Body
Shop, with over 2,000 stores in 52 countries, including 30 in Thailand
An activist in the guise of a businessperson, she says
her life’s work has been to change the language and assumptions of
business. One assumption - “Why does business assume that everything must
be measurable?” Anita Roddick challenged, “How do we measure joy and a
sense of making a contribution in our workplace?” An audience member
reminded us that the King of Bhutan measured his country’s progress not by
the GNP, but by the GNH - Gross National Happiness.
Too idealistic? Maybe, maybe not. Remember the best jobs
you ever had? They were ones you felt enthusiastic and passionate about -
ones where you felt your ideas were respected and could be implemented - by
you. Now connect this passion beyond your self to the community around you -
that’s the idea Anita Roddick is getting at.
“Enthusiasm when it goes to the heart is
unstoppable,” Anita Roddick said. And the proverbial bottom line in all
this? An engaged workforce = productivity. Anita Roddick did not use the
normal business language. On the other hand, were it not for something from
a more traditional business perspective going on ever so right financially -
and measurable - at The Body Shop International, they would not have the
funds today to devote to the social projects which totally engage Anita
Roddick and her loyal buyers.
“People are irritated with the way the big brands are
taking over public space, not just on billboards but in their heads,” she
commented, mentioning in passing the huge and unaesthetic billboards she
noticed in Chiang Mai. So, how is The Body Shop different? It’s a global
brand as well. On The Body Shop truck flanks, instead of having a giant
picture of a bar of soap, she has signage for missing children.
Her contention is that people remember The Body Shop for
efforts that are important and make a difference to people in the community.
Anita Roddick reminded us that no one is remembered for what they do in
business, but rather for using their business generated wealth to change
society. Citing Alfred Nobel as an example, do we remember him for creating
a dynamite business or for endowing the Nobel prizes? One contemporary
example is Bill Gates. The legendary and supremely controversial businessman
has generously endowed a foundation for equity in world health resources
(www.gatesfoundation.org). Didn’t know that, did you?
But in citing Nobel and Gates, Anita Roddick made a
distinction between philanthropic companies and companies who consistently
do business in a way that has a moral center. She commented that it’s easy
for companies to touch social responsibility when it doesn’t affect their
Companies like Wal-Mart or Nike have numerous
philanthropic endeavors, but their offshore manufacturing practices have
been severely taken to task by those on the other side of the
pro-globalization debate. Utilizing cheap offshore manufacturing conditions
allow these companies to be able to fund foundations at the expense of the
people who work for pennies in their third-world factories.
An important point for her, and for us as well, is to
reflect on the total cost of what we’re buying. Inhumane and non worker
friendly environments come as part of the product. Normally, we see the
product, but not the conditions behind the production of the product. Should
we care? Anita Roddick gives a resounding “Yes!” In her eyes,
corporations - more than governments - are the most powerful entities in the
world today, often dictating governmental policies, environmental
regulations, and tax structures. She feels they must be held accountable for
the total cost of their products and that we, as buyers, are implicated in
this weave of buying choice.
For everything you ever wanted to know about Anita Roddick and her
activities, see www.anitaroddick.com