Gordon Roddick: My First Million

Gordon Roddick, 67, helped found The Body Shop in Brighton with his wife Anita in 1976. In March 2006 – 18 months before Anita died – L’Oreal bought their company for £652m.

Roddick had trained as an agricultural scientist before emigrating to Australia aged 20. By the time he met his wife, he had worked in tin mining, sheep farming and had canoed down the Amazon. As Body Shop’s co-chairman, he became involved in helping disadvantaged groups, particularly in Brazil.

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, his most recent project has been working as co-founder of 38 Degrees, online activist organisation. Roddick lives in West Sussex. He has two daughters and three grandchildren.

Did you think you would
get to where you are?

No, I never had much ambition to climb any ladders. I’d been to agricultural college then travelled for five years. I did not want to stay in England and begin a career in a boring office. I wanted to see what the world was all about.

Anita and I got married at 26 and started Body Shop when we were 34. At that time, we were pretty poor. We had a bed-and-breakfast in Littlehampton, and we were running a restaurant on the high street. We started out with a £4,000 bank loan and rented out the restaurant because we could not sell it. About nine months later, we found a partner, Ian McGlynn, a local garage owner, who put in £4,000 in return for 50 per cent of the business.

When you realised that
you were worth £1m did you want to slow down?

Our revenue was about £4m when Body Shop went public in April 1984. We never even gave a thought to slowing down. We wanted to see how far we could push the boundaries of possibility. We would have had 15 to 20 shops then. By 2006, we had 2,000 outlets worldwide.

What is the secret of
your success?

I think it is just being realistic, and never being afraid of failure. Many things I have done in life have not been a success. You can take a wrong turning, or you might not do something well.

What is your basic
business philosophy?

Business is about people, not about numbers. I think where businesses, banks and others have gone wrong – including the Harvard Business School – is that they have centred results on numbers to the detriment of the people involved.

Do you want to carry
on till you drop?

Yes, I do. I don’t envisage retiring. It would be great to go at home, among my vines.

Have you had time for
personal financial planning?

Yes, I control it myself. I have a conservative bank that offers me options, but any decisions are mine. I have a meeting with them each month. My strong preference is to keep money in cash at the moment.

What was your most prudent investment?

Borrowing £4,000 to set up Body Shop. The other investment I have enjoyed is Hotel du Vin, a separate hotel business. I sold out about four years ago and did very well out of it in a capital sense.

Have you made any pension provision?

The residue of capital from The Body Shop sale – separate from the money that was directed into the Roddick Foundation – will see me through old age.

Have you taken steps to pass on your wealth?

I have made a will, and everything will go into the Roddick Foundation. My children will be the trustees. They will give money out to causes associated with social justice, criminal justice, human rights and the environment. We set up a trust when Body Shop was young and we bought the kids a house each.

Do you allow yourself the odd indulgence?

My greatest indulgence is my vineyard. I am not interested in cars. I have some horses that are quite costly to look after. Riding them most weekends is the only thing that keeps me young.

What is the most you have ever paid for a bottle of fine wine or champagne?

I produce my own wines and they are probably the most expensive in the world if I had to work out the cost of each bottle. But they are organic, delicious, and home-grown in West Sussex.

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