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Friday, October 27, 2006

Insight CNY: Dame Anita Roddick

Yesterday was the Insight CNY event at the SU Schine Student Center. There was a panel discussion with several business people, then the keynote by Dame Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop. In 2003, Anita Roddick was awarded the titled Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) by Queen Elizabeth II and now carries the title of “Dame.” Despite the title, she is a down-to-earth person. She is passionate about businesses being change agents. She is a social activist. She is creative, well-read, well-traveled, funny and irreverent. Anita has succeeded and wants to use her success to help others.

Undoubtedly each person who attended the event (and there were more than 300 people there) took away different thoughts from her presentation. Below are ideas and thoughts that I captured in my notes:
  • Syracuse needs to stand for something. It needs to develop something that is unique and capitalize on it. (Or capitalize on some quality that is already has.)

  • The role of mayors – at least in Europe – is to go out and see what other cities are doing. Then bring back that information to their own cities in order to help their city improve.

  • Why is it that success is only measured by a company’s profit & loss statement? Anita created a business that took stands on important human rights issues. How do the accountants and investment analysts measure that?

  • Entrepreneurs march to the beat of a different drummer. They are often outsiders, dreamers, and doers. (She listed other qualities, but I didn’t get them written down.)

  • Entrepreneurs are pathologically optimistic.

  • To be an entrepreneur is to be a survivalist.

  • Entrepreneurship is livelihood creation.

  • Being 20 times bigger is not a goal. Being better by being value-led is.

  • Business is about trading. We trade product for money with our customers. We also trade with our suppliers. At lunch, Anita talked briefly about businesses in South Africa that are built on trading ("this" for "that"). The business models those businesses use do not allow them to be seen as formal businesses, yet they create livelihoods.

  • “The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open.” – Gunther Grass

  • We were searching for employees, but people showed up instead. One of the things Anita learned was that she was able to create businesses (e.g., factories) in areas with high unemployment. She was also able to create relationships with suppliers in Africa and South America that were beneficial to those local economies. And she was able to create services that her employees needed (e.g., daycare, although that’s not what they called it).

  • She worked with groups that businesses are not used to working with. For example, she formed alliances with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). NGOs are democratic entities generally formed around a focused set of goals, and having no affiliation with governments. She also worked with -- and learned from -- Quaker business owners and said she admired their honest business practices.

  • As a business grows it will become less intimate, create more rules, and be less creative. Businesses need to find ways to grow while keeping the qualities of a small business.

  • Dialogue is important and should be honored.

  • Enthusiasm can’t be taught, it must be caught.

  • Businesses need to have a social agenda.

  • Direct selling helps shave away loneliness. (The Body Shop does have a program to sell direct to consumers in their own homes. One of the Body Shop at Home people was at the event from Massachusetts. This has not yet spread to the Syracuse region.)

  • The Body Shop was a communications company. Anita says that because the company was passionate about communicating its values as well as the issues it cared about. Its advertisements were often thought provoking and not about its products, but about social change.

  • We need to create apprenticeship opportunities for young people and help them recognize “the trades” as rewarding and valuable careers.

  • I don’t know if Anita mentioned it during her presentation, but she values public art. Public art can lift the spirits of a community. It can become the focal point of the community.

  • Anita was not “schooled” in business when she started the Body Shop. As with every business owner, if she had known then what she knows now, she would have done some things differently. Perhaps it is because of her naiveté that she built the successful business that she did. Knowing too much can lead people to inaction.

  • Finally, I was struck by the phrase she used to describe the Body Shop. The Body Shop is a multi-local company. In other words, the Body Shop operates globally, yet in each location it thinks and acts locally.
After her presentation, Anita did a book signing of Business As Unusual: My Entrepreneurial Journey, Profits With Principles. Originally published in 2001, this new edition brings the story of her entrepreneurial journey up-to-date. She signed books and talked to people for a long time. It was obvious that she connected with many people in the audience.

How will the discussion continue that was started at Insight CNY? Hopefully everyone who was at the event will go back to their offices and homes, and talk about the ideas that they heard. Hopefully businesses will take a moment to think about the differences they could make in their communities AND then strive to make those differences. Hopefully each person will recognize her-/himself as a agent of real social change. And...yes...hopefully more entrepreneurial dreams were sparked and will emerge (along with the funding to support them).

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