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Don't Wait To Lead, DeVos Says
HOLLAND — The time for leadership is now, said Amway co-founder and philanthropist Richard DeVos, as he shared his experiences in leadership and business with nearly 300 people at Till Midnight as part of the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce Lessons in Leadership series.
Now 80 years old, DeVos said he has come to realize that waiting for a turn to lead is not an option.
“You always think you’re young and you have time,” he said. “I’m telling you, you don’t have time.”
DeVos stressed the importance of following instincts in leadership and taking advantage of the opportunities when they are presented. He also discussed the importance of surrounding oneself with a climate and atmosphere that is conducive to working hard and being respectful of others.
One of the first choices DeVos said he made for himself was to attend Grand Rapids Christian Schools.
“It’s putting yourself in an atmosphere of like-minded people who have faith and respect others,” he said of his education.
When DeVos graduated, one of his teachers wrote in his yearbook, “With talents for leadership in God’s kingdom” — words he said have stayed with him to this day.
Those words from a leader he admired inspired him to be a leader himself.
“Leaders make other people leaders,” he said. “Leaders lift up other people around them.”
After meeting the late Jay Van Andel, his business partner and fellow philanthropist, in school, the two men decided they would always be in business for themselves. DeVos said he had seen the difficulties that his father went through during years of unemployment as well as years as a salesman working for someone else. DeVos said his father repeatedly told him to “get in business for yourself.”
DeVos stressed the importance of taking advantage of the present and not waiting to follow one’s dreams.
“This is a good time, and for you it might be the only time that you have the courage to make the decision,” he said.
DeVos told of his and Van Andel’s first business venture: flying lessons. That they did not know how to fly a plane mattered little.
“Leaders don’t have to know how to do everything to be in something,” he said. “If you wait until you know everything, you’ll never do anything.”
He also shared some of the standards that he and Van Andel held at Amway. DeVos said though it may not seem like much, the pair “went to work every day,” meaning they were both fully present, mentally and physically, ready to do their job.
With many life experiences behind him, DeVos said he was never alone. When speaking of his heart transplant nine years ago, DeVos attributed the doctor’s willingness to work with him and his success in life to God.
“God’s been talking to everyone around me,” he said. “If you ever wonder if God’s hand is on you, it is.”
Jane Clark, president of the chamber, said the event was the third and best attended of the leadership series.
“Member feedback has just been overwhelmingly positive,” she said of the event. “Mr. DeVos has an inspirational story to share and we can all learn from his wisdom.”