Richard M. DeVos, co-founder of Amway, died peacefully at his home in Ada, Michigan, surrounded by family, on September 6, 2018. He was 92. The cause of death was complications from an infection.
Perhaps best known as an inspiring, motivational leader and pioneer of the famous Amway direct selling method that offered individuals the opportunity to build businesses of their own, Mr. DeVos also was senior chairman of the Orlando Magic NBA franchise and a generous philanthropist with his late wife, Helen.
A recipient of the Horatio Alger Award, Mr. DeVos’s life embodied the American dream of humble beginnings turned to great success through determined effort. He was born March 4, 1926, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and grew up during the Great Depression. He credited his interest in owning a business to his father, who always encouraged his son to go into business for himself.
His entrepreneurial spirit took root in a high school friendship with classmate Jay Van Andel. The pair first dreamed of owning their own business while students at Grand Rapids Christian High School. Their friendship grew out of a business arrangement — Rich paid Jay 25 cents a week for rides to and from school in Jay’s 1931 Model A Ford.
After both returned from service overseas in World War II, their early entrepreneurial ventures included a flight school and one of the first drive-in restaurants in Michigan. They sold both interests in 1948 to buy a sailboat in Connecticut with intentions to sail to the Caribbean — even though neither had any sailing experience. Their old wooden schooner, “Elizabeth,” sank off the coast of Cuba. A passing freighter rescued them, and they continued their adventure on land through South America.
In 1949 they invested $49 and became highly successful independent distributors for Nutrilite, a manufacturer and direct seller of vitamins. The California manufacturer of vitamins used a person-to-person selling approach that the partners later adopted when starting Amway from their homes in Ada, Michigan, in 1959, with an all-purpose cleaner, L.O.C., as their only product. Their refined direct selling approach offered individuals around the world a business ownership opportunity. After the first year of business, they moved to an abandoned service station located at Amway’s current headquarters site in Ada, Michigan. Over five decades, they built their business into a multi-billion dollar international corporation and the world’s leading direct selling company.
Mr. DeVos was Amway president from the company’s founding until 1993, when he was succeeded by his son, Dick, and in 2002 by his son, Doug. Continuing in their fathers’ tradition, today Doug DeVos shares the Office of the Chief Executive with Chairman Steve Van Andel, son of co-founder Jay Van Andel. Rich DeVos remained active as a member of Amway’s Board of Directors until his death. Jay Van Andel died in December 2004.
“Rich and my father built this company from the ground up, and in many ways, Rich was the heart and soul of Amway,” said Amway Chairman Steve Van Andel. “His vision and spirit inspired our employees and independent business owners for more than 50 years. No one even comes close to Rich in the love he inspired in the hearts and minds of our family of employees and business owners. We will miss him terribly.”
An award-winning, inspirational speaker, he motivated hundreds of thousands of independent business owners worldwide and kept a full schedule of speaking engagements for a variety of business and charitable organizations across the country. A self-proclaimed “cheerleader,” he promoted the values of freedom, family, faith and philanthropy in books plus thousands of speeches and interviews around the world. As a reflection of his strong Christian faith, he was known for introducing himself at speaking engagements as “just a sinner saved by grace.”
Mr. DeVos wrote five books: BELIEVE! (1975), Compassionate Capitalism (1993), Hope From My Heart (2000), Ten Powerful Phrases for Positive People (2008), and Simply Rich (2014). Simply Rich is a memoir reflecting on his work, faith, family, and the core values he held onto from his humble, Christian upbringing through his success as co-founder of Amway.