As general counsel at The Body Shop, it’s part of Susie Flook’s remit to keep alive the philanthropic spirit of company founder Anita Roddick.
By Tom Phillips
Apart from making buckets of cash, it is surely the aim of all entrepreneurs to leave a legacy. Few can claim to have succeeded in both of these endeavours as well as Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop.
Roddick died in 2007 aged 64 with a large personal fortune, but her brand of natural beauty products was always about more than just money.
Roddick’s ethical approach to business offered an alternative success story that did more than clean the faces of her customers: it improved the appearance of retail in the UK and encouraged a spirit of philanthropy in corporate Britain.
“Corporate social responsibility started with Anita Roddick in my opinion,” says The Body Shop group general counsel Susie Flook, who appears to channel the passion and spirit of charity her former boss left behind. “Anita was a fabulous person, full of energy and ideas, and very clever. It’s so sad she left us early.”
Roddick built up the company over 30 years before selling up to L’Oréal in 2006. It was an acquisition that Flook, as head of the company’s 10-strong legal team, discovered to be a “fabulous exercise”.
At the time the takeover caused concern among environmental and charity groups that L’Oréal’s influence would undermine Roddick’s ethical way of working.
But Flook, who joined in 1999 and became general counsel in 2002, insists that The Body Shop’s French parent has maintained a hands-off approach.
“L’Oréal has left The Body Shop as a separate business entity,” she maintains. “Everybody here is still fiercely passionate about its values.”
The two companies are still getting to know one another. To foster better understanding, at least on the legal side, Flook’s deputy general counsel Mark Chesson will soon be transferred to Singapore, where he will spend 70 per cent of his time working for L’Oréal.
“It’s the first time we’ve worked so closely with L’Oréal’s legal department on an individual’s personal development. It’s very exciting,” says Flook.
Back at The Body Shop’s HQ in Littlehampton, Flook’s day-to-day work involves tackling the constantly shifting world of fast-moving consumer goods. These can be legal issues surrounding, for example, the group’s supply chain or products, encompassing IP or litigation.
But this is often punctuated by acquisitions. These see the company buying back some of The Body Shop franchises that are scattered across 66 countries.
“We’re constantly looking at what’s coming up,” explains Flook. “The internet has made a huge difference over the past few years. Also a lot of carelessness can creep in with language when people communicate on matters using email. And there are other issues like data protection and privacy. The acquisitions are just like buying a business, except it’s a business we know really well.”
For external help Flook turns to Baker & McKenzie, which she describes as “excellent”. Flook is also a main board director of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), an organisation she “adores”.
“Despite only having a team of 10 we have the ACC as a back-up. We get a lot of support and ideas from the fabulous materials the organisation makes available online,” she explains.
The Body Shop legal team can also ask for support from colleagues at L’Oréal should it need it. The new owner and new legal issues are a reminder that things have changed dramatically over the past few years.
Despite this, the company has not forgotten its founder, whose influence remains a constant source of inspiration. There is a dedicated ’Anita space’ on the ground floor of The Body Shop’s head office, which is set aside for presentations by employees or guest speakers; and employees are given six days a year to undertake volunteer work. The company’s franchise agreement even states that employers must give staff time to do charity work.
“Anita used to say, ’Do something, anything, just do something to help others’. You don’t hear that very often in companies,” says Flook. “All her passion, her values – they’re part of the DNA of this organisation.
“In my view there isn’t another company like this in the world – and that’s due to the Anita factor.”
Name: Susie Flook
Company: The Body Shop International
Position: General counsel
Industry: Cosmetics and toiletries
Reporting to: Chief financial officer Catherine Lambert
Turnover: Approx £660m
Employees: Approx 8,000
Legal capability: 10 lawyers, two paralegals, three PAs
Main law firm: Baker & McKenzie
Susie Flook’s CV
Education: 1968-73: BA LLB, Sydney University
Work history: 1974-80: Solicitor, JW Kenny & Jones, Sydney
1980-85: Division attorney, The Coca-Cola Export Corporation
1986-87: Legal counsel, Project Basis
1988-96: Group legal counsel, CPC UK
1997-98: Group intellectual property counsel, Guinness
1999-2002: Group intellectual property counsel, The Body Shop
2002-present: Group general counsel, The Body Shop