Anita Roddick’s untimely death this past week occasioned an outpouring. Her pioneering spirit impelled her to truly live her values in a way few achieve–particularly at the highest levels of business. It was consistent with her character that she had made arrangements over the past several years to donate much of her fortune to the causes in which she so ardently believed.
The English press, is, of course, notably effective in memorials and obituaries. The Economist remembered her admiringly, seeing her historical importance primarily as leading a wave toward green marketing. In the Daily Mail, she was lauded for her vision in linking green issues to business.
If anything, her leadership has been understated, in my view. When she started the first Body Shop in 1976, the general view was that environmental protection and business development were antithetical. Capitalism itself was under severe stress in England and indeed throughout the Western World. As surprising as it seems to many young people today, there was a widespread sense among many elites that socialism was the inevitable next phase of economic history.
Roddick, the daughter of Italian immigrants in a Britain defined by much less permeable class divisions than today, was able to look past barriers that deterred others. Her faith that capitalism and values could be united was transformational, and made her and leading market conservatives of that time, including Margaret Thatcher, unlikely associates in a venture far larger than themselves.
One wonders if either of those unique leaders, whose out-sized hearts were housed in petite physical frames, recognized the intersection of their lives’ work. My bet is that history will.
An Appreciation of Dame Anita Roddick.