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Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Socially Responsible Business Pioneer Dies Too Young

Body Shop Founder Anita Roddick Passes Away at 64

I am proud to say that I knew Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop. I didn't know her well, but we were members of the same business groups, so I got to see her in action plenty. It was a privilege - as well as a good time.

Anita did more than run a successful business, (one that ultimately came to be valued at over $1 billion, although she retained only 18% of it with her husband, Gordon when it was sold to L'Oreal,) she was a pioneer of socially responsible business.

Oh, she didn't go back as far as, say, Murray Lincoln, the progressive head of Nationwide Insurance back in the 1940s & 50s, but she was a leader of responsible business when it inched its way to becoming a movement. She was of the generation of entrepreneurs which only dates back to the 1970s and 1980s: the Body Shop started a few years before Ben & Jerry's, the Calvert Fund, Working Assets, and then the thousands of businesses that have followed.

Anita always liked to say that her business success was unplanned, almost accidental. But, plans only get you so far. And "accidental" isn't really the right word, as The Body Shop just radiated Anita's personality. She had lived overseas and perceived how, by purchasing third world products, she could support their economies. Then she added her own cleverness to the marketing of the products.

In the U.S., The Body Shop was a franchiser and Anita cared about the values of the franchisee, as well as their business acumen. As a result, The Body Shop store owners tend to be an admirable and impressive group.

She helped start and support many of the progressive groups that still survive and do good work today, including the Social Ventures Network.

And, even if she hadn't accomplished every bit of this, she still would have been memorable, perhaps just for her talent as a public speaker alone. One oft-repeated line: "If you think you're too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito."

If she had lived in this country, she would be labeled as part of the "angry" left. But she wasn't about wallowing in negativity. She was about being proactive for social good: "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."

And: "Join me: I want to connect with people who share my outrage over the menace of global business practices, and who, like me, are seeking solutions. But I also want to tell and hear, from you, stories that lift our spirits, that celebrate how glorious our planet is. Outrage and celebration let's run this gamut together."

She wasn't just a memorable business leader, she was a memorable person. She will be missed.

--Mitch Rofsky


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