An Insight Into The Life And Career Of Amway Founder Rich DeVos
The Two Faces Of Richard DeVos
Amway founder Richard ‘Rich’ DeVos is one of the wealthiest and most successful entrepreneurs in America, and indeed the world. With a personal fortune of $4.5 billion, Forbes magazine listed him as the 62nd richest man in America in 2010, and the 176th wealthiest man in the world. But as with many high-profile businessman, DeVos is involved in a number of controversies surrounding not only his business career but also his personal life. He is remarkable for his ability to polarise opinion, and be loved and loathed in equal measure. Some people regard him as a charitable philanthropist, but others claim his charity work is egotistical and self-centred. Some people regard him as a powerful defender of fundamental Christian principles, while others see his views as old-fashioned and discriminatory. Many people praise his commitment to retaining the family-run aspect of Amway, but others see this as blatant nepotism. This article examines the life and career of Rich DeVos – the controversial character behind Amway.
DeVos And Amway
Rich DeVos founded Amway with his lifelong friend and business partner, the late Jay Van Andel, in 1959. DeVos and Van Andel had both served in the US Air Force during World War II, and upon their return had worked together on a number of small-scale and ultimately unsuccessful business ventures before Amway, including an air charter service, a hamburger stand and a sailing business. Directly prior to Amway, the pair sold a nutritional product called Nutrilite door-to-door, and it was this business which became the inspiration behind Amway in 1959. The decision to branch out into other products, including household products like bio-degradable soap, shaving cream, furniture polish, detergent, cookware and cosmetics, was reportedly motivated by a disagreement with the owner of Nutrilite, which persuaded the duo to begin developing their own products. They supplemented their own brands by securing licensing agreements with other companies to sell their products too, and had quickly built up a considerable band of distributors. More than 50 years since its creation, Amway continues to be one of the largest network marketing companies in the world, although DeVos has had to survive without his close friend Van Angel since 2004, when he passed away following a battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
As well as Amway, DeVos now owns a number of professional sports franchises, the most notable of which is the Orlando Magic NBA team. He has also written four books about business and motivational techniques, and is a popular motivational speaker. In 1997, he underwent a heart transplant, and is now an active campaigner for organ donation.
The Controversies Surrounding DeVos, Part 1 – Amway
During its half-century lifetime, Amway has attracted more criticism than any other legitimate network marketing opportunity, and DeVos has been at the helm throughout all of it. Amway has faced massive legal challenges, paid out millions in settlements, faced the threat of closure in various different countries, and even changed its name, with cynics suggesting this was an attempt to avoid being labelled with the derogatory nickname ‘Scamway’. Many of the issues revolve around the structure of Amway, and whether or not it is a pyramid scheme, but this is the tip of the iceberg, with Amway being forced to pay out millions of dollars in compensation for things as diverse as copyright infringement, tax evasion, defamation and slander. DeVos recently admitted in a television interview that the company was perhaps too slow to clamp down on shady activity by its distributors, but has always maintained the company’s innocence and defended its reputation.
The Controversies Surrounding DeVos, Part 2 – Personal Life
DeVos’s social, religious and political views polarise opinion. In 1987 DeVos was selected to sit on President Ronald Reagan’s AIDS commission, and outraged a section of the population by suggesting that the homosexual community was responsible for the spread of AIDS. DeVos is also an outspoken critic of gay marriage, believing it to be a violation of the sacred institution. To some he is simply upholding the fundamental Christian values that are crucial to him and his faith, to others he is an intolerant dinosaur whose old-fashioned views are discriminatory and detrimental to progress.
Other divisive issues include his policy of filling the top positions in the company with family members. In 1990 Jay Van Andels’ son Steve succeeded his father as chairman, and DeVos’s son Dick replaced his father as President. DeVos makes no excuses for this, believing that keeping the company as a family-run business is in its best interests. “I’d like to see family in the controlling spots”, he admitted to The Grand Rapids Press in a 2009 interview. This has, however, left him open to accusations of nepotism – the practice of openly favouring family members over others in the job market.
Thirdly, his charity work causes considerable controversy. It is not the actual act of being charitable that he is criticised for, but more the fact that a large number of the buildings, centers, projects and initiatives that he supports bear the name of him or his wife, including the DeVos Children’s Hospital, the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, the DeVos Communications Center at Calvin College, the DeVos Campus of Grand Valley State University, the DeVos Place convention center, and the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida. For some people, this is just far too egotistical. Some people question whether his real motives are for charity or for fame. In his defence, DeVos claims that he only uses his name when the beneficiary requests that he does, and that by using his name it sets a positive example for other potential benefactors to make donations too.
Richard DeVos – The Verdict
Whatever your opinion is of Rich DeVos, his success as a businessman over more than 50 years in undeniable. He has created a brand which, despite its failings and various incarnations, still thrives as much in 2010 as it did in 1960. His presence on the United States and world rich lists is testament to his success, and whatever the motives behind his charitable work, he has still contributed a lot of money to a lot of good causes. He is dedicated to his family and to the Church, and has 100% faith in his business ventures.
Rich DeVos will always have his critics, but he will also have his followers, and if you share his values and his desire for success, Amway might just be the business for you.