DeVos Retirement Opens Door To Change At Alticor

April 19, 2002
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ADA — A change in leadership at the top of Alticor Inc. doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a change in the company’s ownership structure, but decisions made in the last 18 months certainly have put the company in a position that would make it more of an attractive holding.

Dick DeVos announced last week that he will retire as Alticor’s president on Aug. 31, which coincides with the end of the company’s fiscal year.

Company officials did not immediately name a successor, and DeVos said it would be unfair to speculate whether a new leader would emerge from outside the founding DeVos and Van Andel families. A transition team is being put together to facilitate whatever leadership change takes place. Some outside observers note the long-serving work of younger brother Doug DeVos, currently the chief operating officer of the two chief Alticor businesses, Pyxis and Quixtar.

Dick DeVos said during an April 17 interview, “It’s impossible for me to speculate what the outcomes might be and how the roles and responsibilities might be divided within the office of the chief executive. We’ll sort that out over the next few months.” He said he will work closely with the transition team.

DeVos is credited with being the primary architect of Amway’s restructuring, which gave rise to Alticor Inc. in October 2000.

The then-41-year-old Amway became one of four inter-related yet distinct businesses under the Alticor umbrella, along with Quixtar Corp., the company’s Web-based direct sales business launched in September 1999, and two new companies, Access Business Group Inc. and Pyxis Innovations Inc.

Also within the past 12 months the company has gone outside the founding families for the first time to put three new members on its board of directors.

The move was designed to give Alticor a fresh perspective from persons from outside the families who had a wealth of business experience in a number of different sectors.

Questioned about the future of Alticor, DeVos said there are no plans at this time to sell off any of the four companies under the Alticor banner, just as there is no current plan to take Alticor public.

Universal Forest Products Chairman Peter Secchia, a long-time friend of co-founders Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel, underscored the fact that Alticor is a private company and any speculation about its future business plans — whether going public or selling all or portions of the business — is just that: speculation. “I certainly know of no such plans, but we do not discuss one another’s business. We’re friends, but they run their business and I run mine. (Alticor) is a private company. They can do it their way, and they can do it on their timing. That’s what private companies do.”

When DeVos retires as president Aug. 31, he’ll step into a future wide open with possibilities but without a firm plan in hand.

“I really don’t know what the next step is going to look like but I feel that it’s a step I need and want to take a look at other ways to serve,” DeVos said. “The field for me is very much open and very ill defined.”

Whatever choice he makes, community leaders hope he continues to use West Michigan as his home base.

“Clearly his leadership, not only at Alticor but also with Grand Action, has been instrumental in making a lot of things happen in this region and I certainly hope that he will continue to do that in the future and stay engaged in some major issues, both business and philanthropic, in our area,” said Birgit Klohs, president of The Right Place Program. “I was surprised, as was everybody I’m sure, but what I certainly hope is that he will stay involved and engaged as a leader of the West Michigan business community.”

The 46-year-old DeVos informed Alticor’s board last week of his intent to retire at the end of August.

“I’ve done what some consider to be backwards, but I consider the situation to be the right and honorable thing for me to do anyway — that was once I had come, in my heart, to the decision that it was time for me to move.”

As in the past, politics will play a role in his future.

“Candidates are already well entrenched into the races; sides have already been drawn, etc., etc. I guess to me the timing would clearly suggest that I’m not going to jump into elective politics,” he said.

“But I can assure you that, as we have been, as we are, Betsy and I will continue to be involved in politics. We just happen to think that’s the responsibility of all Americans.”

Betsy DeVos is former chair of the Michigan Republican Party.

DeVos began his career at Amway in 1974 and served through 1989 in a number of positions from research and development to government affairs. He was promoted to vice president-international in 1984, with responsibility for operation of Amway’s then 11 international affiliates, which grew to 18 affiliates.

One person who has had a front-row seat for much of that growth is John Brown, a former vice president of Amway who is now president of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

He said that while taking Amway to global status was a feather in DeVos’s leadership cap, it was his work over the past 18 months that has really defined the man.

“I witnessed Dick work to take Amway from a direct selling company to Alticor, a multi-dimensional manufacturer, marketer and logistics organization and really a powerhouse in those areas,” Brown said.

He said the cultural changes DeVos has implemented at Alticor have been remarkable.

“But most importantly, I think Dick leaves Alticor a successful company with the blueprint for future success. And, really, when someone is leaving, that is the measure of all that the person has done for the business and in Dick’s case it is all that he has done to help ensure Alticor’s future success.”

In 1989 DeVos co-founded the Windquest Group, a management firm still in operation.

“It is a possibility that I would go back and re-ignite some of what we started there at Windquest but, again, that’s one of many possibilities that are out there,” he said.

When the DeVos family purchased the Orlando Magic basketball team in 1991, Dick DeVos took over as president and chairman of the NBA franchise.

In 1993 he returned to Amway to succeed his father, Amway co-founder Rich DeVos, as president.

“When I arrived, we were a company that was still questioning whether we could transition past the active involvement of our founders,” he said. “Now, as I prepare to leave, we have transformed into a major international corporation, sustained by a strategic vision, and with management befitting a leading global company.”

Alticor Chairman Steve Van Andel said he had tried to talk DeVos out of leaving. He said DeVos had a vision of what the company needed to be and stayed focused on the vision until it was achieved.

“In business terms, he had an all-star career here,” Van Andel added.

But DeVos’s contributions to West Michigan reach beyond his business ventures. Some are hopeful that his retirement will give him more time to devote to community endeavors.

“It sounds like his is ready for a new chapter in his life and he is going to go and do it,” said Dixie Anderson, executive director of the World Affairs Council. “So I say congratulations to Dick.”

While DeVos has never been personally involved in the World Affairs Council, Anderson said Alticor is a very good corporate member of the council and she has worked with Steve Van Andel in the past. “Jay Van Andel and Rich DeVos are former board members of the World Affairs Council, so there is a long history and I wouldn’t expect that relationship to change just because Mr. DeVos is retiring. We look forward to working with them in the future.”

Katy Rent and Tim Gortsema contributed to this report.

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