2014-05-31 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

The Memoir of Amway’s Rich DeVos
By George Weeks

Whether embracing or rejecting his conservative views, one can still marvel at the extraordinary worldwide business success of Michigan’s Rich DeVos and acknowledge that he has made huge contributions to the betterment of Grand Rapids.

Those were my thoughts as I read his just-published memoir from Howard Books (a division of Simon and Schuster): “Simply Rich: Life and Lessons from the Cofounder of Amway,” one of the world’s largest direct-selling companies, with sales of $11 billion last year.

As he notes: “Today, China is Amway’s largest market, and our business there continues to grow.”

Whatever the intended meaning of the title of the book, DeVos, of course, is not simply rich. He is, after humble beginnings, now spectacularly rich, a self-made billionaire in partnership with his neighbor, classmate, and buddy Jay Van Andel, cofounder of Amway, who collaborated with DeVos in assorted small enterprises before they created Amway in 1959.

But this is more than a ragsto riches book. It explores his philanthropic, religious, and political endeavors.

My focus in past reporting on the family has been on politics. DeVos, at one point, was the chief fundraiser for the national GOP; his son, Dick, ran for governor, and Dick’s wife, Betsy, chaired the Michigan Republican Party.

As a resident of northern Michigan, I often read or hear media reports of Up North children being taken—sometimes flown in emergency situations— to the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids. This impressive facility is named after DeVos’ wife.

Support of the hospital is among DeVos-backed projects, including the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, DeVos Performance Hall, Grand Rapids Symphony, Grand Rapids Christian Schools, Calvin College, MSU College of Human Medicine, and Grand Valley State University (he served on its board).

The legacy of DeVos, who in 1992 had a stroke and later had a heart transplant, continues with his family members, who support local projects. For example, the highly successful Art- Prize in Grand Rapids, now entering its sixth year, was the brainchild of DeVos’ grandson, Rick, and the founding sponsor of the event is the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation.

Especially timely today, given what’s going on in the league, is DeVos’ earlier acquisition of the Orlando Magic basketball team.

In his book, he writes: “We have the only big-league sports team in town. And Orlando has worked with us beautifully and helped us build an arena because they knew we needed a new building. So the town has been good to us, and we’ve tried to be good to Orlando.”

Last week, when I asked for DeVos’ reaction to the flap over the racist comments by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, DeVos spokesman Nick Wasmiller referred me to comments made by Dan DeVos, now the family owner, who said the franchise was behind the league’s plan to sanction Sterling and plans “to vote accordingly” on banning Sterling for life from the league and fining him $2.5 million.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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