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An Interview with Jeremy Schwartz
The Body Shop International is the specialist boutique beauty brand that pioneered a style of social consumerism built on the philosophy that business can be a force for good. Founded in the UK in 1976, The Body Shop broke from cosmetic industry norms of the time by using natural products and recyclable containers, by eschewing animal testing, and by promoting environmentally friendly policies and social messages.
It was a concept that was to revolutionize the cosmetics industry, and one that would bring rapid growth. Within two years, a kiosk in Brussels had become the brand’s first overseas franchise. Within six years, new shops were opening at a rate of two per month. Today, The Body Shop has a global presence, with more than 2,800 stores operating in malls and high streets across 63 countries.
The Body Shop chairman and CEO Jeremy Schwartz (London, 1987-1989) sees the brand as one whose business proposition is completely of these times: today consumers are looking for, as he puts it, authenticity, naturalness, service, transparency, and environmental credentials. However, he is candid in his appraisal of the company's current position and of challenges it faces.
“We have failed to keep pace with changes in the world and, as such, have let slip our reputation for being at the forefront of the very things our customers are looking for. I want to invigorate the brand and rejuvenate our unique concept of specialist beauty,” Jeremy said.
It is his goal to accelerate the pace of sales and profit growth—an ambition that will require a transformation of the business.
“It’s my job to define, lead and deliver this transformation," he said. "I am responsible for spearheading its strategy and day-to-day execution, from our products to our services, and from our retail store experience to our business model.”
In all corners of the world, The Body Shop faces competition both from new local brands as well as from the globalization of more established brands. For local consumers in these markets, such brands might appear novel and exciting when compared to the almost 40-year-old The Body Shop. “Our aim," Jeremy said, "is to increase the pace with which we refresh our offer to appeal to both our ‘global’ consumers while meeting also the needs of our ‘local’ customers around the globe.”
It is, he adds, his responsibility to bring leadership and clarity to a program of reinvention in every area of the brand’s offer. “It’s up to me to inspire belief and a desire to change in line with this vision, not just among colleagues, franchisees, and employees, but also among our lapsed customers," he said. "We need to give them reason to reconsider us and come back to The Body Shop.”
“By listening to all stakeholders,” he said.
To Jeremy, “listening” means doing so close-up and in-person. When we chatted with him, he had just returned from an eight-nation trip—sitting in on discussions, visiting stores, attending focus groups, and hosting breakfast meetings—to hear firsthand what franchisees, employees, and customers say they want from The Body Shop.
He listens to what managers want to share about their experiences with their customers, and he asks them what they’d like to see changed or improved upon, or what types of products and services they would like to see launched.
“Only by listening in person am I going to hear the unadulterated truth," Jeremy said. "Questions, responses, suggestions, and comments—having not been sifted and processed through a chain of other people before reaching me—are heard unfiltered. And embedded in this opinion, I believe, we’ll find the keys to our future success.”
So what type of feedback has he been getting?
“I’d summarize it by saying The Body Shop stakeholders want us to re-establish our voice, and they want to know we have a strategy for growth,” Jeremy said.
It should come as no surprise, he says, that when wrestling with all of this, he leans readily on skills nurtured at BCG and, as such, is “an advocate of the power of deep analysis—of business economics, of structures, of consumer requirements—as the source of inspiration for my growth strategy.”
“Great innovation and great strategies come from data and analysis," Jeremy noted. "BCG drives the art of analysis to find hidden truths in data. At The Body Shop, I immerse myself and my teams in data, econometric modeling, and future-state forecasting to determine the right allocation of resources and investment.
“As BCGers, we learn how to dig down to the nub of an issue; we are taught to ask, 'How do I get to the truth?' BCG inspired in me a drive to craft and re-craft the formation of strategies that are in the end simple, powerful, and inspiring; strategies that people will readily embrace and adopt."
Jeremy acknowledges, however, that one of the difficulties in applying even the most robust of strategies uniformly across a global brand, with stores scattered from Indonesia to Norway and from the U.S. to China, is that cultural habits, working styles, and expectations differ.
“There will be some variance in execution, of course; that’s one of the realities of standardization," Jeremy said. "However, if anybody fiddles or tinkers too much, it will negatively impact the overall effectiveness of the strategy.”
To keep everything “on an even keel, and to keep everyone committed,” Jeremy once again looks to the power of the one-on-one consultation and makes it his business to call in at as many of the company’s far-flung locations as he can.
“In this type of business, senior people can easily become disconnected from realities on the ground," he said. "When I visit a location, I don’t care what level the person I am talking to is at—whether it’s a manager or a billionaire franchisee, he or she gets 100 percent of my attention, and usually for at least one full hour. I don’t take phone calls; I don’t allow myself to be distracted by anything else.
“To keep everyone involved and committed to our strategy, I need to show that the CEO is involved and committed.”
The Body Shop, Jeremy reminds us, even after almost four decades, remains a brand with a unique philosophy. It is a brand, he says, that wants to continue being a force for good.
“A lot of well-meaning entrepreneurs succeed at first because they challenge the status quo and embody a spirit of activism that drives them forward," Jeremy noted. "Too often, sadly, visions change and the final measure of success turns out to be no more than the bottom line.
“We remain a business strongly self-conscious about its obligations, not just to its shareholders, but to its employees and to its customers. I believe in leading from the top, to run a business in such a way that it measures and minimizes its environmental impact, one that seeks to enrich the lives of its employees, and one where its customers can, through their purchasing power, do good at the same time.”