Opinion: DeVos was a leader and philanthropist

Keith A. Pretty and Timothy G. Nash

On September 6, 2018 we lost one of the world’s truly great entrepreneurs, business

On Sept. 6, we lost one of the world’s truly great entrepreneurs, business leaders and philanthropists.

Richard M. “Rich” DeVos was born on March 4, 1926, in Grand Rapids. His values and determination were shaped at an early stage in life. DeVos was a product of the lessons taught by a loving family and the experience of living through the Great Depression.

His father lost his job during the Depression and the family was forced to move into an  apartment in the attic of his grandparent’s home. His family made many sacrifices to make it through the Depression but never lost sight of the importance of family, the dignity of work, and the plight of the less fortunate.

Rich DeVos’ life changed forever when he met his fellow classmate, Jay VanAndel (1924–2004) at Grand Rapids Christian High School. The two became life-long friends, business partners, and philanthropists. Their dreams positively influenced millions of people and made the world a far better place by their actions.

It was their strong belief in and respect for the “American Dream,” and their desire to help others attain it, that lead them to establish the American Way Association in 1959, later shortened to Amway (today part of Alticor, Inc.). DeVos and VanAndel started the Amway Corporation out of their basements in Ada, Michigan just outside of Grand Rapids.

The company went from offering one product, a multi-purpose household cleaner in 1959 with $500,000 in sales its first full year (1960) to offering more than 450 products and services and 2017 sales of $8.6 billion. Amway has over 4 million independent distributors in more than 100 countries and territories around the world with almost 80 percent of sales generated outside of the United States. Today, the Amway Corporation directly employs more than 17,000 people in Michigan and throughout the world.

Richard DeVos, Orlando Magic owner and Amway Inc. co-founder, smiles after welcoming fans to the new Amway Center in Orlando, Fla, in 2010.

Perhaps more important to DeVos than his economic contributions were his numerous examples of civic stewardship. DeVos and his wonderful wife Helen (1927 - 2017), along with their children have donated more than $1.4 billion to charities ranging from colleges and universities and free market think tanks to hospitals and churches.

“Giving is a joyful experience,” DeVos once told us. People clearly make the difference in this world and Rich DeVos and his wife Helen can be counted among the world’s most exceptional philanthropic difference makers.

The United States remains the world’s beacon of liberty and the cornerstone of global capitalism because of entrepreneurs like Rich DeVos.

Dr. Keith A. Pretty is president and CEO of Northwood University. 

Dr. Timothy G. Nash is senior vice president and director of The McNair Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Northwood University.