The philosophy of epic entrepreneurs: Dame Anita Roddick

"You've got to be hungry - for ideas, to make things happen and to see your vision made into reality." Kindness, empathy, ethics, spirituality, fiery passion... virtues more precious than the rarest of diamonds, all gathered together within the workings of a single beautiful mind. This is the life - manifesto of a green revolution from one of the most visionary entrepreneurs of all time, the great Dame Anita Roddick.

Littlehampton, England, 1942.

Like a female avatar of the legendary Robin Hood, she fearlessly launched herself into the great adventure of life guided by a love for the fragile, vulnerable and underprivileged communities of the world. Anita Roddick, the daughter of Italian immigrants, nurtured her entrepreneurial spirit from an early age, initially out of mere necessity and devotion to her family.

Anita's journey began with the dream of studying drama, enthused by her love for Hollywood's rebel, James Dean. However, she soon found herself on a more conventional path, working as a teacher. Yet her restless spirit meant this would not last for long, as her taste for adventure took her to explore every corner of the planet.

From Africa to the Pacific islands, the world became her oyster, with precious experiences and a wealth of knowledge being born. Roddick was an avid adventurer of the road less traveled and throughout her intriguing journeys, unearthed a multitude of stories, rituals and beauty secrets of women and lost civilisations around the world. 

That became the source of her brilliant ideas for the line of products developed by the Body Shop, which initially emerged as an alternative and 'green' pioneer of conscious consumerism that was awakening back at that time.

"I want to work for a company that contributes to and is part of the community. I want something not just to invest in. I want something to believe in," she powerfully declared and went straight ahead to create it herself. In 1976, Anita Roddick became the proud owner of her own start-up. Where she started to do "business as unusual," as she would playfully put it. Her products can be described as a celebration of nature, but for the passionate idealist, it had to evolve to something much greater – her own radical contribution to change the world.

The philosophy of epic entrepreneurs: Gianni Agnelli

So, who was this fiery woman who taught children history and geography while playing music of forgotten eras in her class, captured their imagination with her enchanting story-telling and who religiously visited the cinema almost every night of the week? As she grew up, the whole world magically turned into a stage for her many talents to play out and lead all the roles that she once dreamed.

Anita Roddick was a pioneering social entrepreneur of 'green' consciousness; a proponent of fair trade and ethical business principles; an idealist gifted with deep awareness for social concerns and a fighter for human rights and environmental campaigns. The true beauty of Roddick's success story is not to be found solely in her rise as a discerning woman entrepreneur of global appeal, but also to be viewed as a significant moment in the history of humanity of the birth of a passionate activist.

Roddick can be described as a romantic anarchist, who throughout her life fought against the hardcore beliefs and rules of elitist business politics. Brave and outspoken, she once remarked: "The market controls everything, but the market has no heart!"

Many times, she took a pause to look at the world through her own prism of instinctive intelligence, uncovering lost treasures such as human inter-connectedness, spirituality and wisdom. These factors would inter-play, resulting in the rise of a new model of ethical and socially-driven entrepreneurship. Roddick was a great believer of the transformational power of the often neglected principle of kindness. She vividly envisioned a world governed by higher ideals, above and beyond the emptiness of the relentless pursuit of wealth and power.

"We pioneered fair trade in beauty because beauty comes from the heart." Guided by her powerful vision, she took a little shop out of the streets of Brighton and turned it into a symbol of environmental and social activism that spread her message all over the world. At the same time, Anita was also a bright businesswoman with a concrete identity and an entrepreneurial philosophy with an edge. She managed to build one of the most iconic businesses in the world and capture the hearts of millions of consumers across the globe.

The philosophy of epic entrepreneurs: Estée Lauder

Her elegant business plan did not take place in a garage, adhering to the 'good omen' of other famous start-up founders that left history in the business world.

Actually, taking a visit down the original Body Shop was definitely not for the faint-hearted... located among two funeral parlours, it was a funky experience on its own! Back in the years of retro innocence and daring dreamers, Anita thought that leaving a trail of strawberry essence on the street would work its magic in luring more customers into her new business.

Innocence left untouched translates into deep instinct. As she confessed in her beautiful directness: "There was a grace we had when we started - the grace that you didn't have to bullshit and tell lies. We didn't know you could. I mean, we were really that naive... We didn't think that life was any more complicated than love and work.

"We communicate with passion, and passion persuades." Determined that she would do all things different in her own unique way, she never believed in the power of conventional and prestigious advertising campaigns. It was simply not necessary, Anita had a powerful story to tell. From sourcing ingredients in exotic faraway destinations to promoting the importance of fair-trade, community building and the crucial issue of animal welfare - these were among the vital constructs that backed the radical marketing strategy of the Body Shop and shielded brand differentiation from competitors. Quoting Wittgenstein, she would state about the power of creative story-telling: "Words create worlds."

The story of Anita Roddick is a unique example of the power of innovative ideas and clear visions in fueling the realisation of big dreams. It's about the creation of a new honorable business paradigm. The heart of her philosophy was about humanising corporations, creating unbreakable bonds with consumers, empowering employees through education, retaining enthusiasm and passion as the engines that keep the energy flowing, making the 'dream' grow bigger. She believed that companies should expand their vision above profits, realise their responsibility of generously giving back to the global society, and above all, serve as "incubators of the human spirit".

The philosophy of epic entrepreneurs: Coco Chanel

In her own inspiring words: "I believe quite passionately that there is a better way. I think you can rewrite the book on business. That is the vision, and the vision is absolutely clear."

Paradise Lost. If the greatness of life and the void of loss could be captured within a single title, Anita Roddicks' journey would be named after a radical poem about revolution and the celebration of glorious joy. In the name of all 'anarchists' of the heart and spirit, for one last time, she shouts out her message: "I want you to understand that this is no dress rehearsal. You've got one life, so just lead it. And try to be remarkable.... If you do things well, do them better. Be daring, be first, be different. Be just."

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

Comment

Our Companies

Quick Links