Growing up, Anita Roddick was a heroine. Anita started her business just a few miles from where I grew up on the Sussex South Coast, and went on to build a global ethical brand. When we look at iconic brands like The Body Shop and The White Company, we forget that they started life as a tiny seed of an idea which the founders nurtured, determinedly and relentlessly. I wrote How Anita Roddick Changed The Business World both as a celebration for International Women’s Day on 8 March and as a reminder to myself and my readers about the importance of being vocal about what you believe in. Business Review

How Anita Roddick Changed The Business World explores the growth of The Body Shop from a shop in the back streets of Brighton to a fully fledged global brand, bought out by the French cosmetics giant, L’ Oréal. But that was not the end of the story. In February, frustrated with declining sales and overtaken in the market by brands like Lush, L’ Oréal announced that it was looking for a buyer for The Body Shop.

Under Roddick, The Body Shop had a strong ethical essence. It ‘clicked’ with its customers because they shared the same values. L’ Oréal’s strategy however was to move The Body Shop into the mainstream which diluted its brand essence. The Body Shop became in effect a ‘half-ethical’ brand. This description explains just what a nonsense L’ Oréal’s strategy has been. It’s a non sequitur. You can’t be half ethical. You’re either an ethical brand, and fully embrace all this means. Or you’re not. This explains why The Body Shop is currently stuck in brand no man’s land.

Compare this twist to the story of Lush which started life as a home-based business making natural products in rural Dorset. Ironically within ten years of starting, Lush became The Body Shop’s biggest supplier. It has since gone on to overtake its former customer; because of its clear ethical positioning, strong product development and vertically integrated model. A key reason that Lush is going from strength to strength is because it has stayed true to its brand essence.

Authenticity and staying true to your core values are the moral of this story. Anita Roddick’s Body Shop stood out in the beauty industry because it lived by the values it promoted and its customers connected with its strong ethical stance. Anita was clear about what Bill George calls the ‘True North,’ the orientating point that helps you to stay on track as a leader. Love her or hate her, Anita was resolutely true to who she was and vocal about what she believed in.

I first read Bill George’s leadership classic Discover Your True North last year, and it’s a book that I regularly return to when I’m reflecting on my own business journey. What does it mean to be a leader? How does my own life story shape how I see the world? Are some of the beliefs I have self-limiting? Are there stories I need to reframe? What are my core values? What is my own True North?

Back in November, I wrote an article Post US Election, What Can We Do? The outcome of the US election, following closely on the heels of the EU referendum, was a seminal moment for me. In that article, I suggested we be the change we want to see in the world. On a personal level, this involves asking questions like who am I? What is my why? What do I believe in? How am I going to bring this to life? What is the new story for humanity? What is the new story for leadership? How can we engage in that new story without being resentful, or angry, or trying to prove others wrong? When it comes to building a business, it involves questions like what are my brand values? What’s my brand promise? What are my non-negotiables? What sort of culture do I want to create? What sort of boss and leader do I want to be?

I’ve been trying to answer these questions and come up with answers.

I know that I want to work with ethical businesses that are making a social impact. I have quite a broad definition for this. Being ethical means doing the right thing and being honest. Making a social impact means helping people and leaving the world a better place. What does this mean in practice?

  • Doing the right thing means refunding a customer when you didn’t deliver the service you promised.
  • Being honest can mean holding your hands up, admitting when you’ve made a mistake and doing your best to put it right.
  • Helping people could be the plumber who does a safety check for a vulnerable elderly couple, one of whom has dementia.
  • Leaving the world a better place could mean setting aside a proportion of your earnings to donate to a charitable cause. Or setting up your own charitable trust or social enterprise.

That is why I reviewed and amended my own brand values and brand promise. It’s why I’ve resolved to share more about the causes I care about on my Facebook business page. It’s why, when I’m writing about businesses that are Built To Succeed™, I’ll be showcasing brands that are ethical and making a social impact. It’s why I’m going to be publishing more on how to Lead With Integrity and showcasing stories about great leadership over on my new Facebook page.

Over the coming months, I’m looking forward to making the transition to an activist brand. I hope you’ll join me on that journey too.

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Question: How was your February? Did you achieve what you wanted in your business? I love reading your feedback so please do let me know in the comments box below.

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I’m Denyse Whillier, a London based business coach and consultant. I guide entrepreneurs from across the globe to achieve profitable, scaleable growth and create businesses that are Built To Succeed™. Built To Succeed™ is my proven success system, developed during my 8 years in the trenches as a CEO, 25 years’ experience at senior leadership and managerial level and training at Cranfield School of Management, the UK’s leading business school. It’s this background that sets me apart and helps my clients to get BIG results.

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