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Roddick was kinder, more ethical retailer

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Scott Jagow: Britain is mourning the loss of one of its most respected businesswomen. Anita Roddick died last night at the age of 64. She founded the cosmetic chain, The Body Shop. Today, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called Roddick one of his country’s true pioneers.

We’re joined now by our man in London, Stephen Beard. Stephen, what made Roddick so special?

Stephen Beard: She was probably the first ethical retailer in Britain. Her company, Body Shop, was the first one that really was totally committed to a whole range of ethical and environmental causes — many years before these things became fashionable in the British business world.

Jagow: But as a businesswoman, she was also considered pretty shrewd, wasn’t she?

Beard: Yes, very much so. And this opened her to accusations of hypocrisy. She was passionately interested in running a company which she said was kinder and gentler than the average corporation. But at the same time, she did pocket around $2 million a year in dividends. And when she sold her company to the French cosmetics giant, Loreal, last year, she and her husband made well over $200 million from the sale.

Jagow: Well, they are in business. When that happened, I do remember a lot of people came out hard against her for selling out.

Beard: Indeed, because Loreal was precisely the sort of company she loathed. She accused Loreal of lying to women, exploiting women with their products. But Anita Roddick defended her sale by saying “once we’re inside this large multinational company, we’ll change it from the inside.”

Jagow: And has that happened?

Beard: The jury is still out on that. It is worth noting though, finally, that lining up today to pay tribute have been environmentalists, aid campaigners, charity workers — not the sort of people that usually line up to heap praise on a businesswoman after she’s died.

Jagow: All right, Stephen Beard, our correspondent in London. Thank you.

Beard: OK, Scott.

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