The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick: Beware of management consultants

The female entrepreneur discusses company structure and how consultants are of little help

The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick talks about the huge growth of the beauty store chain, and how it almost all came to pieces when they hired a management consultancy to manage it.

Roddick admits that “you would hoot with laughter” to hear how haphazardly The Body Shop was managed during its most successful period of growth. “People would think ‘my god, if you’re opening 150 shops a year, you’ve got to be doing something good,” she recalls. “But for nearly 20 years, we didn’t have an organisational chart – we didn’t quite know what one was, anyway.”

Despite this, Roddick says she believes the Body Shop’s incredible success during this time was down to this ad-hoc management structure, a system which she terms “management by falling apart at the seams”.

“We had no systems, we had no sophisticated departments – and we had no marketing department,” she says. “But every award we ever won for marketing was during the time we had no marketing department. The minute we brought in a marketing department, it became the science of marketing – and we never won another award.”

Roddick believes the complete lack of a plan or formal management structure was in line with The Body Shop’s overarching ethos. Whilst they didn’t know what they were going to do next year, “we knew the names of everybody – their grandmothers, and families, and mothers and fathers and kids working on the campus.”

But, as she acknowledges, the bigger an organisation gets, the more hierarchy will “sneak up on you”, whether you like it or not. With this in mind, The Body Shop management team decided to bring in the services of a management consultant to formalise the process. “We came, we saw, we spent,” Roddick pithily recalls. “And it was a disaster.”

She admits that whilst the consultancy they used was “appalling”, the problems with hiring a management consultancy run deeper than mere competence. “What we did was take our knowledge and give it to strangers,” she explains. The consultants didn’t understand the egalitarian principles The Body Shop was run on, and attempted to impose their own ideas of hierarchy without real knowledge of the company structure.

Roddick describes the period with the consultancy as one of “exhausting meetings, increasing gulfs between staff and management and phenomenally complex corporate structures and fractured relationships.” When the consultancy finally produced an organisational chart for The Body Shop, it turned out to be a needlessly complex interweb of management and staff relations – Roddick memorably describes the visual chart as a “Lego set from hell.”

The successful entrepreneur clearly felt strongly about the dangers of hierarchy, and she finishes with an unequivocal message. “Hierarchy will sneak up on you – and it will snuff out creativity, very efficiently and very fast.”

Bio:

Perhaps one of the world’s best-known social entrepreneurs, The Body Shop founder Dame Anita Roddick was one of a rare breed of entrepreneur known equally for phenomenal success in business and for being a true social enterprise pioneer.

Opening the first Body Shop branch in 1976 as a way of earning a side income when her husband was away, The Body Shop had a clear ethos from the start – quality skincare products, sustainably sourced, marketed with truth rather than hype. It was a model that has proved wildly successful – by 1991, the franchise had more than 700 branches, and was eventually purchased by cosmetics giant L’Oreal in 2006 for £652m.

The Body Shop had a clear charitable and social focus from the start, and Roddick was known for pioneering ethical business practice long before anyone else in her industry thought about it. The Body Shop was one of the first promoters of fair trade, and amongst the first to prohibit animal-tested ingredients in its products. It was heavily involved in charity work with the likes of Greenpeace, Amnesty International and The Big Issue, and in 1990 Roddick also founded Children on the Edge, a charity working with children in war-torn countries.

Anita Roddick passed away in 2007 after suffering a brain haemorrhage, but her life’s work continues, and has left an indelible impression on how the world values ethical business practices.

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