"British business education is backward and this is not only a profound sadness but it is dangerous," says Body Shop founder and chief executive Anita Roddick. "Business is richer, vaster and more powerful than governments. Business schools are key players on a major stage, but there is no responsibility and I want to change this."
After championing human and animal rights, self-confessed "capitalist hippy" Ms Roddick is now challenging the whole business education establishment. Her New Academy of Business will "champion values-aware management".
"I'm not a scholar or an academic," she is quick to admit, but it will be hard for the academic community to ignore her latest venture. Having expanded The Body Shop from a single, start-up retail outlet into a Pounds 500 million turnover empire, Ms Roddick's business credentials are irrefutable. She is already a celebrity on the United States business school lecture circuit. But perhaps most importantly, she points out, "I'm willing to open my purse as much as my mouth for this project".
Roddick's New Academy of Business was founded almost a year ago on around Pounds 250,000. But a high-profile, media-friendly re-launch accompanied last month's announcement that the academy is to offer its first masters degree, in responsibility and business practice, at the University of Bath school of management's centre for action research in professional practice.
Business schools may mock the intent: a business education with courses on spirituality instead of accountancy, social justice and human rights instead of human resources, and community economics instead of economics does seem to set itself up for academic ridicule. Especially when traditional schools are facing a credibility question. But Ms Roddick is rapidly gaining credibility.
Already on her team as director is David Mathew, former deputy director of the King's Fund management college and Imperial College management school lecturer. Former Bristol University MBA director of studies Gill Coleman is programme director.
"There are a huge number of disgruntled business academics out there who have expressed an interest," insists Ms Roddick. "I've spent the last five years lecturing at business schools across the world and there are some universities who really are enthusiastic about this type of thinking."
She acknowledges that it could be all too easy to dismiss her thinking as "another Body Shop flaky idea". "This revolutionary thinking has got to be institutionalised," she says.
The rise of the "vigilante consumer" means that in the late 1990s there is more to business than the bottom line. The key to credibility, she says, is the direct link with Bath University.
"Getting university validation is all about legitimacy," she says. She fears that any progressive thinking that is emerging in business will stay on the margins of business education as "just a token add-on. We are a Trojan Horse".
The two-year part-time masters degree, available in March, will cost Pounds 5,000 a year. It is initially open only to business managers and consultants already entrenched in the business world, in all about 20 students. The Academy is looking for more partnerships with universities, especially research link-ups. But what is in it for the universities? Quite a lot, Ms Roddick thinks.
"We've provided Bath with secretarial support and marketing. It hasn't been very much about money, but Bath has had a lot of publicity."
Bath is happy too. "We could have started the course on our own, but the link is useful," says Peter Reason, of the centre for action research. "The New Academy brings a wealth of resources. In cash terms the course has to be self-sufficient, but Anita's name commands a lot of respect, and she has very good contacts to attract major international speakers."
Dr Reason is confident the partnership can win credibility. "First, this is not an external degree validated by the University of Bath. It is our degree. We retain academic control and make significant contributions to the teaching."
More importantly, the department is "rethinking the nature of academic excellence". "It is more about the interchange between theory and practice rather than in lofty and ungrounded traditional academic ideas. Scholarship for its own sake is less interesting than scholarship that contributes to effective action in the world. It's a new paradigm of thinking."
The masters is not intended to compete with the MBA or even to offer a "green MBA", says Dr Reason. "Our aim is to establish debate in a critical area of management that hasn't had enough attention. It's a taught degree and an enquiry process too."
Director David Mathew says:"We've been approached by several universities, not just in America, but in Australia and Scandinavia too," he says. Lancaster University already provides modules from its MBAs to the academy.