He Was The Quiet One

December 13, 2004
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The names of the city's founders — those who created the first outline of a community on the banks of the river — will surely be joined in local civics class lessons by the name of Jay Van Andel. It was Mr. Van Andel, and his life-long friend Rich DeVos, who filled in the landscape contained within the boundaries of Grand Rapids and who provide its direction for the foreseeable future. They, too, are founders.

The stories of the past few days have elaborated on the enormous contributions made by Mr. Van Andel, and we would add to that the contribution of his family. Mr. Van Andel's sons and daughters remain in this community, not only as guardians for those things their father helped to create, but to guide them as an ever renewable force in the regional and state economies. Such has not been the case in other mid-size cities in this country. The effect of families moving on is as close as Detroit, and the impact of such choices by the Ford family.

Mr. Van Andel was an entrepreneur extraordinaire, possessing even stereotypical characteristics, from eternal optimism — even in the face of international crisis — to his decisive nature and very close eye on the varied aspects of the business. He and DeVos have indeed taught the world what it is to "be in charge of your own destiny," as individuals anywhere in the world have been given guidance as "independent business owners" in the Amway division of Alticor.

Alticor remains this community's best example of a family business. A private business. Its founders showed other family businesses, from large to very small, the importance of succession planning, the addition of "outside" executives who add to the family's ideas, and the nature of being community grounded. The importance of the fact that Alticor will remain a private, family business can not be underscored enough. The family business continues to invest in the community as owners and is not beholding to stockholders. The family is unimpeded in its ability to understand and assist others in West Michigan. That fact has been a big part of all that has been contributed to this community.

Mr. Van Andel's impact was larger than life: Amway, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, The Right Place, Van Andel Museum Center, Van Andel Arena, most especially the Van Andel Institute, and dozens of other contributions unnamed. Each of his contributions has become a catalyst with impact beyond what a single individual could hope to accomplish. He chose wisely, and with acumen.

Mr. Van Andel's life work is not finished. It continues through his children. This community is indeed blessed.    

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