Human Resources, Manufacturing, and Marketing, PR & Advertising

Amway co-founder Rich DeVos dies

September 6, 2018
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Rich Devos
Rich Devos. Courtesy RDV Corporation

Richard M. DeVos — the co-founder of Ada-based Amway and billionaire West Michigan philanthropist — died today at 92.

DeVos was at his home in Ada, surrounded by family, according to RDV Corporation. The cause of death was complications from an infection.

Co-founder with Jay Van Andel of the global direct-selling business Amway, DeVos was also senior chair of the Orlando Magic NBA franchise and a philanthropist with his late wife, Helen DeVos, who died last October.

“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 Chair Steve Van Andel, son of Jay 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.”

The DeVos family released a statement lauding the “positivity” and encouraging nature of their father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

“He was a visionary leader, builder, life enricher, motivator and a champion for people from all walks of life,” the family said.

“Rich DeVos was many things to many people, but to us he was simply Dad, Grandpa, ‘Bumpa’ or ‘Papa Great.’ We are deeply grateful and blessed beyond measure to have been loved unconditionally, raised, mentored and inspired by him. He was a role model unlike any other.”

Several community and business leaders have posted remembrances and tributes at richdevos.com.

David Frey, Grand Valley State University Foundation director, spoke of DeVos’ commitment and generosity to GVSU.

“Rich often referred to Grand Valley as the college founded, nurtured and embraced by this community. Its mission and impact was applauded and revered even by people who didn’t go there, like himself,” Frey says.

“Rich knew that an outstanding public university is an essential ingredient to the reputation and prosperity for America’s leading cities. He was passionate about the future and led the charge for an always more-prominent GVSU and an always brighter future for his hometown.”

Business roots

Born March 4, 1926 in Grand Rapids, DeVos’ entrepreneurial spirit took root in a friendship with classmate Jay Van Andel at Grand Rapids Christian High School. Their friendship grew out of a business arrangement — DeVos paid Van Andel 25 cents a week for rides to and from school in Van Andel’s 1931 Model A Ford.

After both returned from service in World War II, their early entrepreneurial ventures included a flight school and one of the first drive-in restaurants in Michigan.

In 1949, they invested $49 and became independent distributors for Nutrilite, a manufacturer and direct seller of vitamins. The partners later adopted its direct-selling approach when starting Amway from their homes in Ada in 1959, with an all-purpose cleaner, L.O.C., as their only product.

Over five decades, they built their business into a multi-billion-dollar international corporation and the world’s leading direct-selling company.

Amway leadership

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.

Today, Doug DeVos shares the CEO role with Steve Van Andel.

Rich DeVos remained active as a member of Amway’s Board of Directors until his death.

He was also a motivational speaker and author of five books.

Philanthropy and downtown Grand Rapids

DeVos volunteered his time and leadership to a number of causes and with his late wife, Helen, through the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.

He was instrumental in the revitalization of downtown Grand Rapids, including the construction of DeVos Performance Hall. He and Jay Van Andel led the restoration of the former Pantlind Hotel, which was purchased by Amway and is now the Amway Grand Plaza. DeVos and Van Andel also spearheaded the Amway-owned JW Marriott Grand Rapids.

Rich and Helen DeVos led many other community projects, such as DeVos Place Convention Center and the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

They supported numerous secondary and higher education institutions, including Grand Rapids Christian High School, Calvin College, Lee University, The King’s College in New York City, Grand Valley State University, Northwood University, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and Hope College.

In 2006, Rich DeVos and Helen DeVos were honored with The Philanthropy Roundtable William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership. In 2010, they were awarded the Clare Boothe Luce Award by The Heritage Foundation, and in 2012, they received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Direct Selling Association.

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