Outlook: Anita can't cut the umbilical cord

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The Independent Online
ANITA Roddick isn't often wheeled out at City presentations these days. Most of the time she prefers to be half way up the Amazon or some such place, searching for the next jojoba oil. But we got her in full flow yesterday with all the New Age mumbo jumbo that has made her such a handful for the "pin-striped dinosaurs" of the City she loves so little.

Instead of the boring management speak uttered by most chief executives we had Anita on hemp ("so useful") umbilical chords (the business is her baby) and "shopping mall terrorism (don't ask). No wonder she and the City never got on. Neither party can have a single clue what the other is talking about.

In her new role as co-chairman we may be seeing even less of Ms Roddick in the Square Mile from now on. This is a shame in some ways but investors in this under-performing company might wonder whether yesterday's management restructure will really change anything.

For a start, Body Shop now looks awfully crowded at the top. We have two executive co-chairman (Gordon and Anita), an executive deputy chairman and a new chief executive. The Roddicks say they will not interfere but is that really likely in an entrepreneurial business where the two founders are both on the board and have a 26 per cent stake?

All this is not to say that changes were not necessary if Body Shop is to remain a public company. It has become increasingly clear that the existing management does not have the range of skills to manage an empire that takes in manufacturing and retailing and sprawls across continents. Manufacturing will now be reviewed and the US business is being placed under a joint venture. More changes will follow. Body Shop could eventually end up as more of a brand manager, like Virgin, than an operator of stores, factories and so on.

Unfortunately, none of this resolves the core issue of ownership. The Roddicks say they abandoned plans to take Body Shop private three years ago because they did not want to swap one set of landlords (brokers and investors) for another (bankers looking after their mezzanine finance). What they have now is an uneasy compromise. They remain a quoted PLC, but everyone knows they don't feel comfortable with it. Not a happy state of affairs.

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