Gordon Roddick: Business Can Be a Force for Good

Gordon Roddick

Gordon Roddick

Doing good for others is a key ingredient in a successful business. Just ask Gordon Roddick.

Roddick helped found The Body Shop with his wife Anita in 1976, creating a cosmetics company that produced and retailed natural beauty products. As a forerunner of ethical consumerism, the UK-based company was one of the first to prohibit the use of ingredients tested on animals as well as one of the first to promote fair trade with third world countries. In March 2006 – 18 months before Anita died – L’Oreal bought The Body Shop, which had expanded from its humble beginnings as a small shop in Brighton to 2,000 stores worldwide.

During his time as the Body Shop’s co-chairman, Roddick quietly founded and funded social organizations that have changed thousands of lives. In 1991, along with John Bird, Roddick funded the launch of The Big Issue to fight homelessness. An active supporter of community and social enterprise, Roddick co-founded 38 Degrees, an online activist organization that campaigns for fairness, human rights and peace as well as preserving the planet and deepening democracy in the UK. And don’t forget the sweet stuff — he is the driving force behind Divine Chocolate, a fair trade chocolate company that benefits cocoa farmers in Ghana.

Roddick spent time with Master Sha, sharing his world-changing philosophy: Business can be a force for good.

MASTER SHA: What was the drive behind creating The Body Shop?

GORDON RODDICK: Anita was a history teacher and great at doing all kinds of research. I was trained in agriculture. When she looked at the industry, she was angry at the price of the products. When you would divide it up, it was about advertising packaging and not about ingredients. She wanted to reverse it and put all into the ingredients and not the advertising or packaging. She wanted to put it in simple containers that don’t cost anything. People raved about it from day one. This was an approach that said to the consumer: “We love you and want to bring you the best. We don’t have to tell you it is the best, but try it.” The whole notion of putting quality into the ingredients was what drove us.

MASTER SHA: So it came out of a desire to serve people and give value to what they were receiving?

GORDON RODDICK: The shop would become a social center. They would come and say hello and talk. In year two and year three we added three or four shops. Then people began to take us seriously. By the time we passed year eight or nine, I think we had 60 shops. Then people took us seriously. We began buying ingredients from producers overseas: India, Sri Lanka, Nicaragua and all over the world.

If we were to buy ingredients from overseas, we wanted the people who produced the ingredients to be well paid so they could educate their children, like us. MBAs are taught how to cut costs. The first person they go to is the supplier to cut costs.

MASTER SHA: What is the key to the success of your company?

GORDON RODDICK: It was always the people. It was always those who we employed. We always said that we advertised our employees and people turned up. It was the ingredient of the great people. We did not employee people for expertise. We employed them on their humanity.

It was always obvious to us if you had people who loved what they did, you did not need to worry about profit. It was not a word we used. We told shareholders they were not number one, but the employees are number one, then franchisees and then shareholders.

MASTER SHA: Where did the customers fit in?

GORDON RODDICK: They were hugely important. Almost in a way they were the end product of great people. You would always get great customers.

Great franchisees were key to the whole thing. The franchisees were shareholders or owners of their individual shops. As a united front, they were incredibly powerful. It kept us on our toes. It has always been people.

We did things that no one else would dare. We came out against the Iraq war. We had huge complaints about being involved with politics. Politics is a part of life. You can’t tell me Texaco and more are not involved in politics.

MASTER SHA: You have applied such ancient wisdom.

In the I Ching, an ancient teaching is that we are living in Heaven, Mother Earth and a human being. The nature of Heaven is changing. The clouds and weather are always changing. Mother Earth does not change too much. The feng shui is earth wisdom.

That is why we need to find a good place to build a foundation. Heaven changes. Harmony is the key for success.

You are speaking of team work. You said that human beings are the key to success. You have harmonized people who love and support one another. In the three layers, human beings are the key. There is unity here. You have applied ancient wisdom, which is in your heart and soul. This is great wisdom.

What wisdom would you give to someone who wanted to start their own business?

GORDON RODDICK: Be brave, passionate and break the rules because they are not worth reading.

Learn more about Gordon Roddick and his philanthropic work at the Roddick Foundation.