Friday, September 28, 2007

Success factor: Le Pain Quotidien

My recent visit to London reminded me of a turbulent episode in my past. When looking for The American Intercontinental University London for a Wall Street Journal assignment, I entered an upcoming and trendy neighborhood around Marylebone High Street. Suddenly I recognized a Belgian restaurant at the corner of the street. It was a "Pain Quotidien".

Then came the memory flash. I think it was in 1994 when one of the biggest Belgian banks, the KB, published a magazine in which they pictured 2 golden egg companies. One was Le Pain Quotidien from entrepreneur Alain Coumont, the other was a youth magazine The past has its way of re-entering reality in a confrontational manner. Back then I hadn't heard yet about this "Le Pain Quotidien". Today it is a successful commercial Belgian story. With more then 80 shops around the world the idea of Alain Coumont took off as a rocket. What I didn't know then, and probably the bank didn't know either, was that Le Pain Quotidien was virtually bankrupt in 1994. Coumont had to sell his company to Van den Kerkhove bakeries. Luckily Coumont managed to keep the license for the US out of the deal. He focused on the US and built up some capital again in a newly formed company called PQ Licensing. In 2004 PQ Licensing bought the biggest part of Le Pain Quotidien back (except for the license in Belgium which was transferred to a new holding company of the Van den Kerkhoves called "Vandan".) Whatever construction behind the company these days "Le Pain Quotidien" became a successful brand driven by an efficient franchising organisation.

In contrast to Le Pain Quotidien my youth magazine wasn't on the brink of bankruptcy in 1994, on the contrary it was growing like hell. In 2000 I sold the magazine to a well known company listed on the stock exchange. Unfortunately in an effort to maximize the organic growth we knew for years, they re-vamped the magazine completely (it became a look alike of Rolling Stone Magazine) after which sales decreased dramatically. After one year they stopped the publication. They never understood magazines, or newspapers for that matter, have a unique, and therefore delicate, soul. Thinking back, it might not have been the wisest decission to sell the magazine back then.

(Picture: Alain Coumont, man behind Le Pain Quotidien)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Wall Street Journal Europe, Future Leadership Program, Birkbeck College, London

A part of my new job at The Wall Street Journal Europe means being responsible for The Future Leadership Program. I am slowly beginning to understand what a powerful tool was being given to me.

A major part of The Future Leadership Program consists of the daily delivery of roughly 9.000 newspapers to 120 top universities all over Europe (divided over 19 countries). I embarked on an exiting exploration of how our newspapers are displayed at these Universities, how the newspaper is perceived by the students, which professors are referring to the paper, which universities would be interested in a closer relationship with The WSJE...

I started my adventure in London and walked three days from one university to another. I must admit it were the best three days of my professional life this year. It was for the first time in 5 years working for Dowjones that I met so many people on the field who really liked our product, who really enjoyed it, used it, read it, even studied it.
The attached pictures show the new entrance of Birkbeck College in the heart of London where WSJE is to be found at a prominent position in the library. A poster welcomes the visitors with a quote merging the essence of my new job (education) with the essence of my former function (distribution operations). It couldn't be more symbolically.

(The poster says: "A center of evening education at the highest level is as essential to a world city as a good transport system. Professor Eric Hobsbawm)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lesson # 5: Profits Can Go Hand in Hand with the Public Good (Anita Roddick)

“Over the past decades…while many businesses have pursued what I call ‘business as usual’, I have been part of a different, smaller business movement, one that tried to put idealism back on the agenda,” says Roddick. “If I can’t do something for the public good, what the hell am I doing?”

In the early days of her company, Roddick’s social and ecological conscience was motivated more by economic cost-saving factors over anything else; recycling was encouraged because she could only afford a certain number of bottles while store walls were painted green not for environmental awareness, but rather to hide the damp stains. However, as The Body Shop franchise grew into a cosmetics powerhouse, Roddick began to realize that she could use her power to have a positive impact on the world around her.

“I hate the beauty business,” says Roddick. “It is a monster industry selling unattainable dreams. It lies. It cheats. It exploits women.” In order to find self-fulfillment in her work, Roddick was thus forced to expand her vision. “I want to work for a company
that contributes to and is part of the community,” she says. “I want something not just to invest in. I want something to believe in.”

It is to this end that The Body Shop began supporting campaigns that convey positive social messages and promote change. From sponsoring Greenpeace’s lobbying efforts against dumping waste in the North Sea to supporting Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth, Roddick has worked hard to ensure that her company is about more than simply profits. “It’s about service, serving the weak and the frail, bringing the concepts of social justice into business,” says Roddick. “But actually putting them into practice is the key. They can’t be just rhetoric any more.”

Not only has she focused on recycling and refused to test her products on animals, but Roddick has also encouraged all of her franchisors and employees to promote a cause of their choice – on company time and money. Many see her moves as both anti-business and revolutionary, but Roddick says such practices have been around for years in many societies.

“All through history, there have always been movements where business was not just about the accumulation of proceeds but also for the public good,” says Roddick. “I am still looking for the modern equivalent of those Quakers who ran successful businesses, made money because they offered honest products and treated their people decently. This business creed, sadly, seems long forgotten.”
To those who question her business sense, Roddick retorts that taking care of the community in which your company draws its profit is not just about feeling good about yourself. Indeed, it makes good business sense too. “I think that more companies are now realizing its corporate reputation is at stake and what they fear mostly is consumer revolt,” she says. “If prices are not that good at the moment that’s because the bloody business is not very well run. It has nothing to do with the social agenda. We save a huge amount of money by not advertising and by not going around in Lear jets, or having obscene compensation packages like many others do.”

Indeed, with revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Roddick’s dedication “to the pursuit of social and environmental change” seems to have served her company well. (Evan Carmichael)

Picture: Dame Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop, with the Dame Commander Medal at Buckingham Palace in London, November 13, 2003. Photo: Reuters

Friday, September 21, 2007

Lesson # 4: Infuse Your Company with a Survival Mentality (Anita Roddick)

I started The Body Shop in 1976 simply to create a livelihood for myself and my two daughters, while my husband, Gordon, was trekking across the Americas,” recalls Roddick. “I had no training or experience and my only business acumen was Gordon’s advice to take sales of £300 a week. Nobody talks of entrepreneurship as survival, but that's exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking.”

When Roddick first decided to start up a business, it wasn’t because she wanted to create social and environmental change nor was it because she particularly liked the cosmetics industry – in fact, she hated it. The Body Shop sprang out of Roddick’s need to earn an income to support her and her children. And since that very first day, Roddick has worked hard to ensure her company maintains that survival instinct. “I wake up every morning thinking…this is my last day,” says Roddick. “And I jam everything into it. There’s no time for mediocrity. This is no damned dress rehearsal.” She no longer needs to worry about generating an income for her family, but it is only by fighting to the death each and every day that she believes The Body Shop will continue to thrive.

“We were most creative when our back was against the wall,” says Roddick.
Indeed, it was her survival instinct that led to many of the innovations that would later become company trademarks. For instance, favouring recycling came from Roddick’s inability to afford more than 700 empty bottles. In addition, even though she had very few products initially, Roddick decided to have five sizes of everything. Upon entering the small 370 square foot shop, this would give the illusion that the store carried over 120 products.

“I think that sort of good housekeeping of frugality, which would certainly be considered eccentric nowadays, was part of the idiosyncratic nature that set us apart,” says Roddick. “Nobody was stupid enough to offer five sizes of one product; it simply didn’t make sense. We turned it around into a survivor’s option: customers pick up the size they want and come back every week for a refill. Recycling had nothing to do with being environmentally conscious at that point.”

Indeed, despite the fact that Roddick’s name has today become synonymous with social and environmental activism, this was not her initial intention. “I made no claim to prescience, to any intuition about the rise of the green movement,” says Roddick. “At the forefront of my mind at the time there was really only one thought – survival.”

The Body Shop arose out of Roddick’s need to create a living and it is that do-or-die mentality that continues to inspire the company’s success. However, Roddick is quick to stress that economic growth was never her goal. “My goal was livelihood. We don’t use that word often enough,” she says. “If I could give one piece of advice to anyone it’s don’t obsess with this notion that you have to turn everything you do into a business, because that ends up being a small version of a large company. But if you can create an honourable livelihood, where you take your skills and use them and you earn a living from it, it gives you a sense of freedom and allows you to balance your life the way you want. (Evan Carmichael)”

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Lesson # 3: Draw From Your Own Personal Experiences (Anita Roddick)

“It wasn’t only economic necessity that inspired the birth of The Body Shop,” says Roddick. “My early travels had given me a wealth of experience.”

Roddick never went to business school and she never turned to so-called industry experts to see if her idea was worthwhile. Instead, she took the body of knowledge she had gained from her own years of experience and applied it to what she was sure would be a success. Roddick drew on her personal experiences that she had gone through during her years of traveling to create a line of products, the very uniqueness of which was what led to their success.

“I’ve always said that travel is the best university; getting from one place to another means more than physical movement,” says Roddick. “It also entails change, challenge, new ideas and inspirations….I had this idea of making little products like shampoo and so forth using ingredients I had found when I traveled.”

She could have spent years in a laboratory concocting never been made before cosmetic products, hoping she would come up with something marketable. Instead, Roddick went with what she knew. “You change your values when you change your behaviour,” she says. “When you’ve lived six months with a group that is rubbing their bodies with cocoa butter, and those bodies are magnificent, or you wash your hair with mud, and it works, you go on to break all sorts of conventions, from personal ethics to body care. Then, if you’re me, you develop this stunning love for anthropology.”

Roddick had spent much time in the farming and fishing communities of people who had as of yet still been relatively untouched by industrialization, exposing herself to body care and rituals of women from all over the world. “Because I have the interest of living with indigenous groups of people and pre-industrial groups, I learned so much,” she says. “For example, when your shampoo is gone, you end up mashing up stuff to put in your hair. You put on mayonnaise, eggs, anything to clean and scrub. It is real experiences that change your values.”

In addition to her traveling, Roddick drew on her early childhood experiences to inspire her business. In watching her mother work relentlessly and with creativity in cost-saving measures, Roddick drew many important lessons that would later have an impact on The Body Shop. “The frugality that my mother exercised during the war years made me question retail conventions,” she says. “Why waste a container when you can refill it? And why buy more of something than you can use? We behaved as she did in the Second World War, we reused everything, we refilled everything and we recycled all we could. The foundation of The Body Shop's environmental activism was born out of ideas like these.”

Roddick drew on events in her own life to create a unique line of products and a company with a unique business philosophy. Convention might have said it couldn’t be done, but experience told Roddick it could.

Lesson # 2: Make Creativity the Centre of Your Company (Anita Roddick)

“It is a critical job of any entrepreneur to maximize creativity, and to build the kind of atmosphere around you that encourages people to have ideas,” says Roddick. “That means open structures, so that accepted thinking can be challenged.”

Entrepreneurs are visionaries, according to Roddick, and those who are in a uniquely situated position to change the world. They are people who want to imagine a different world and share that vision with others. As such, it is essential to foster the free flow of ideas, both within oneself and within one’s entire company.

Roddick is a fan of philosopher Karl Popper’s theory of an ‘open society’, which she claims is “the only kind of society that can solve its own problems.” At the forefront of this society are the entrepreneurs, those who have the imagination and determination to change the way things are done.

“Successful entrepreneurs may hate hierarchies and structures and try to destroy them. They may garner the disapproval of MBAs for their creativity and wildness. But they have antennae in their heads,” says Roddick. “When they walk down the street anywhere in the world, they have their antennae out, evaluating how what they see can relate back to what they are doing. It might be packaging, a word, a poem, even something in a completely different business.”
According to Roddick, entrepreneurs are by nature creative creatures. However, the path to success is rarely one that can be walked alone. It is this freedom of thought and expression that must also be encouraged throughout your company and amongst the team that is working with you towards your vision. “You always have to remember that what is most important in a company – or anything else – is unquantifiable in figures,” says Roddick. If you must measure your success, she says, do it “according to fun and creativity.”

Whether it is in small ways or large, entrepreneurs can change the world by seeing something new that others don’t. Entrepreneurs are a different breed of people and should thus act accordingly, suggests Roddick. “Whatever you do, be different – that was the advice my mother gave me, and I can’t think of better advice for an entrepreneur,” she says. “If you’re different, you will stand out.” Roddick’s business plan wasn’t revolutionary – she simply began using bottles more than once and she imagined a business with a heart. However, that was different enough to set her company apart from the rest.

Unfortunately, creativity is not enough to get ahead in the business world. Indeed, creativity is not taken well in many circles and thus the path to success can be paved with more obstacles than one bargains for. Thus, above all else, she says, entrepreneurs need to believe in themselves. “It is true that there is a fine line between entrepreneurship and insanity. Crazy people see and feel things that others don’t,” says Roddick. “But you have to believe that everything is possible. If you believe it, those around you will believe it too.” (Evan Carmichael)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Lesson # 1: Entrepreneurship Cannot Be Taught (Anita Roddick)

“I often get asked to talk about entrepreneurship – even by hallowed institutions like Harvard and Stanford – but I’m not all convinced it is a subject you can teach,” says Roddick. “How do you teach obsession, because more often than not it’s obsessions that drives an entrepreneur’s vision? Why would you march to a different drumbeat if you are instinctively part of the crowd?”

Before Roddick began to put in place her vision for The Body Shop, she admittedly knew little about business and had never read a book on economic theory in her life. While many saw this as the key factor that would lead to her downfall, Roddick saw this as her greatest advantage.

“If I had learned more about business ahead of time, I would have been shaped into believing that it was only about finances and quality management,” says Roddick. “There is a sort of terrorism that comes with the operations and the science of making money, but by not knowing any of that, I had an amazing freedom.”

Roddick claims that she went to the business school of life. Indeed, watching her mother work tirelessly to maintain her café, Roddick was given insight into what it takes to become a business success. When other cafes were open at 9am and closed at 5pm, Roddick’s mother opened her café for the local fisherman at dawn and didn’t close it until the last customer had wandered away. It is this passion and determination that Roddick believes cannot be taught within the walls of business schools.

“In the business school model, entrepreneurs are most at home with a balance sheet, a cashflow forecast and a business plan,” says Roddick. “They dream of profit forecasts and the day they can take the company public. You certainly must be able to wield these weapons. But these are just part of the toolbox of re-imagining the world. They are not the basic defining characteristic of entrepreneurship.”

Rather, Roddick suggests that entrepreneurs are fearless leaders who cling to their own vision of the world with a passion most others do not understand. “Potential entrepreneurs are outsiders,” she says. “They are people who imagine things as they might be, not as they are, and have the drive to change the world around them. Those are skills that business schools do not teach.”

While Roddick acknowledges that the likes of Harvard are sure to teach applicable business skills, she believes that they “will not teach you the most crucial thing of all: how to be an entrepreneur. They might also sap what entrepreneurial flair you have as they force you into the template called an MBA pass.”

Spreadsheets and financial flair are important, but the key ingredients according to Roddick – passion and imagination – are things that can never be taught. Indeed, they were the very factors behind Roddick’s success. She reached the top of the business world not in spite of her lack of business education, but because of it.(Evan Carmichael)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Changing the World one Shampoo at a Time. Anita Roddick dies age 64.

More than 10 years ago I published a monthly movie magazine for young grown ups (18 - 35 y). Although we were relatively small we always tried to find a way to talk to the real 'stars'. When we changed the magazine into a 'broader' magazine, covering all aspects of the daily life of the young grown ups we had to look for 'stars' outside the movie firmament. One of the first names we went after was Anita Roddick, the woman behind the Body Shop. A young writer, Philip Dumalin, chased her management for months before achieving in what was considered impossible, that we, the boys and girls of Teek Magazine, would be able to have a long private interview with Mrs. Roddick. I will never forget the eyes of Philip Dumalin when he came back from England after the interview. Only sheer happiness was to be found in his eyes. He was proud of his achievement in having been successful in reaching her personally, he was proud of the exalting visit, he was proud of the article he wrote and the picture he took. He also said she made a big, very big impression on him. Now Anita Roddick is dead. She died on Monday September 10, 2007, age 64. Her family said in a statement she suffered "a major brain hemorrhage" at St Richard's Hospital in Chichester, West Sussex. She was already weakened by Hepatitis C, a blood-borne, viral disease she contracted from a blood transfusion in 1971 after giving birth to her youngest daughter. She had been taken to hospital on Sunday evening after she collapsed complaining of a headache. Her husband, Gordon, and daughters Sam and Justine were all with her when she passed away at 6.30pm. I will be publishing a few management lessons from 'Dame' Anita Roddick the coming days.

Changing the World One Shampoo at a Time: How The Body Shop Became a Success

“If you do things well, do them better. Be daring, be first, be different, be just,” says Roddick – a phrase that could very well be her company motto. She has taken her $6,500 loan and turned it into a successful multi-million dollar corporation that continues to not only make popular cosmetic products but also push the boundaries of corporate social responsibility. She may no longer be the driving force behind the company, but her influence on the business world is undisputed. How did she do it?

Social Change: “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito,” Roddick used to say. Perhaps she had too little knowledge about the business world to know that it couldn't’ be done, but Roddick set out not only to meet the needs of her stakeholders, but also “to courageously ensure that our business is ecologically sustainable, meeting the needs of the present without compromising the future.” In doing so, Roddick not only turned a profit but garnered a large and dedicated following of consumers who were onside with her vision.

Vision: Roddick used her creativity and imagination to come up with both a unique product line and corporate philosophy by which to operate. She also understood the importance of cultivating this spirit throughout her company, inspiring the free thought of others around her. It was in looking at the world through a positive and creative lens that Roddick was able to see the solutions ahead.

Experience: “If you can shape your business life or your working life, you can just look at it as another extension – you just fulfill all your values as a human being in the work place,” says Roddick. “If you are an activist, you bring the activism of your life into your business, or if you love creative art, you can bring that in.”
Roddick used what she knew best to inspire and inform her business – her own experiences. Whether it was working in her mother’s café as a child, or bathing along side indigenous tribes in Brazil, Roddick brought in her own past to chart her future.

Survival: “For myself, I needed to earn money, to look after the kids while my husband was traveling for two years across South America,” says Roddick. Born out of a need to stay alive, The Body Shop has been infused with a survivor mentality since day one. It continues his trend today, making the most of every opportunity it can and remaining unsatisfied with the status quo.

Passion: “It’s not really work for me because I have no idea what work is anymore,” says Roddick. “It is so much a part of my life.” Since she was a little girl, the entrepreneurial instinct was cultivated within Roddick. The passion and determination with which she approached her business not only made up for her lack of business knowledge, but actually helped her in achieving her dreams. “I hadn’t a clue,” she recalls of her early days in business and that is what propelled her to the top.

It was while Roddick was running her first store that she learned the true nature of business: “It’s about creating a product or service so good that people will pay for it. Now 30 years on The Body Shop is a multi local business with over 2.045 stores serving over 77 million customers in 51 different markets in 25 different languages and across 12 time zones. And I haven’t a clue how we got here!”(Evan Carmichael)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

33 Unwritten Laws of Business

1. Learn to say "I don't know." If used when appropriate, it will be used often.
2. It is easier to get into something, than to get out of it.
3. If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.
4. Look for what is missing. Many know how to improve what's there; few can see what isn't there.
6. Work for a boss to whom you can tell it like it is. Remember, you can't pick your family, but you can pick your boss.
7. Constantly review developments to make sure that the actual benefits are what they are supposed to be. Avoid Newton's Law.
8. However menial and trivial your early assignments may appears, give them your best efforts.
9. Persistence or tenacity is the disposition to persevere in spite of difficulties, discouragement, or indifference. Don't be known as a good starter but a poor finisher!
10. In doing your project, don't wait for others; go after them and make sure it gets done.
11. Confirm the instructions you give others, and their commitments in writing. Don't assume it will get done.
12. Don't be timid: speak up, express yourself and promote your ideas.
13. Practice shows that those who speak the most knowingly and confidently often end up with the assignment to get the job done.
14. Strive for brevity and clarity in oral and written reports.
15. Be extremely careful in the accuracy of your statements.
16. Don't overlook the fact that you are working for a boss. Keep him or her informed. Whatever the boss wants, within the bounds of integrity, takes top priority.
17. Promises, schedules and estimates are important instruments in a well-run business. You must make promises -- don't lean on the often-used phrase: "I can't estimate it because it depends on many uncertain factors.
18. Never direct a complaint to the top; a serious offense is to "cc" a person's boss on a copy of a complaint before the person has a chance to response to the complaint.
19. When interacting with people outside the company, remember that you are always representing the company. Be especially careful of your commitments.
20. Cultivate the habit of boiling matters down to the simplest terms: the proverbial "elevator speech" is the best way.
21. Don't get excited in engineering emergencies: keep your feet on the ground.
22. Cultivate the habit of making quick, clean-cut decisions.
23. When making decisions, the "pros" are much easier to deal with than the "cons". Your boss wants to see both.
24. Don't ever lose your sense of humor.
25. Have fun at what you do. It will be reflected in your work. No one likes a grump except another grump!
26. Treat the name of the company as if it were your own.
27. Beg for the bad news.
28. You remember 1/2 of what you read, 1/2 of what people tell you, but 100% of what you feel.
29. You can't polish a sneaker.
30. When facing issues or problems that are becoming drawn-out, "short them to ground."
31. When faced with decisions, try to look at them as if you were one level up in the organization. Your perspective will change quickly.
32. A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter -- or to others -- is not a nice person (This never fails.).
33. Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, an amateur built an ark that survived a flood while a large group of professionals built the Titanic!

These 33 business rules are the backbone of The Unwritten Laws of Business, a book from 1944 written by W.J.King and James Skakoon. The book was actually based on three articles written by W. J. (William Julian) King which were first published in the "Mechanical Engineering Magazine". The American Society of Mechanical Engineers later decided then to release the articles in book format.
King was a General Electric engineer who retired as a UCLA engineering professor in 1969. He died in 1983.

Sixty years later Raytheon CEO William Swanson published his Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management (see Impactroom post). Swanson's Rules are almost entirely based on King's earlier writings.

Monday, September 03, 2007

TOP MBA programs and European Business Schools

According to Financial Times:

Top European Business Schools 2006
1. HEC Paris
2. London Business School
3. IMD
4. Instituto de Empresa
5. Iese Business School
7. RSM Erasmus University
8. University of Bradford/TiasNimbas
9. Cranfield School of Management
10. Insead

Top MBA programmes 2007
1. University of Pennsylvania: Wharton
2. Columbia Business School
3. Harvard Business School
4. Stanford University GSB
5. London Business School
6. University of Chicago GSB
7. Insead
8. New York University: Stern
9. Dartmouth College: Tuck
10. Yale School of Management

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Five leadership tips

Five leadership tips from David A. Brandon, CEO Domino's Pizza Inc.:
1. Spend as much time in the market as you do in the office.
2. Don’t ask people to do things that you’re not willing to do yourself.
3. Surround yourself with terrific people.
4. Lead by example.
5. Be able to change and change quickly.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The secret to success in business

The secret to success in business is the simple sum of what you know (also considered your human capital), who you know (your social capital or your network) and who trusts you (your reputation).
Take at a certain point all the money away from successfull leaders, managers, or business visionaries, bankrupt them if necessary, if they excel in the above three categories, they will survive and re-surface time and time again.