July 15 • 08:22 PM

Grass roots and humble beginnings

September 12, 2018
Over the weekend someone posted a notice and accompanying article saying Rich De Vos, co-founder of Amway, had died at 92. The well-known motivational speaker and proponent of free enterprise had addressed numerous groups and penned several books, including one titled Compassionate Capitalism. In typical De Vos fashion, he had said once back in 1996, "It isn't with grandiose speeches. It is through simple words of encouragement, a pat on the back, a hand on the shoulder, a little 'you can do it,' that a life can be changed, and our country saved."

The first founding principle of Amway was, "Our door is open to anyone—the uneducated, impoverished, people who don't speak well—our doors are open." Begun some 55 years ago, Amway is one of the world's largest direct-selling businesses, operating in more than 100 countries.

I would probably have better understood the relatability of the company all these years had I heard the following little story of the first "business relationship" that De Vos entered into with Jay Van Andel, Amway's co-founder. The article says that back when Rich was a student at Grand Rapids Christian High, walking or catching a streetcar to get to school, he saw that Jay had a car and offered to pay him $.25 a week for a ride. My first reaction to this little peek into their early partnership was, "That sounds like a pretty handsome price for a ride back then." When I looked a little more closely, though, I discovered the decimal point following the dollar sign; and I realized the humble beginnings of their business dealings. During those rides, their friendship thrived and they ended up partnering in several business ventures before they came up with Amway (short for American Way).

While multilevel marketing helped the company grow, it also led to a lot of criticism; but De Vos always defended the business. In his words, "those were the hard days where we had to stand for the business and fight for it when other people accused us of wrongdoing or just not running the business correctly. We've proven the business. Mainly we've proven it works for people who work it."

Yes... I think to myself... just maybe I would be doing more than buying the occasional box of Scrub Buds and the can of pre-wash (neither of which I want to live without) had I known those humble beginnings. Instead of buying a filter for my under-the-kitchen-sink water purification system every year I would be selling the systems. Had I known the grass roots, maybe I would have worked my end of it instead of coasting along and buying from the people who are still working it. Just maybe. At any rate, Rich De Vos and Amway co-founder Jay Van Andel are to be remembered not only for the way they grew their business but for the way they made capitalism work, generously spreading the overflow back into the environment in which they lived.

Email Willene at

Willene Tanis is a longtime resident of the Imlay City area and an active volunteer in the community. Many readers find her 'Perspectives' column to universal and uplifting.
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