Richard DeVos, the Midwest entrepreneur, businessman and Christian died this week at 92. During the Depression, his father lost his job as an electrician and resorted to odd jobs. The family gave up its home and lived with relatives. The young Richard delivered newspapers and helped one of his grandfathers sell fruit and vegetables door to door, an experience that he said taught him the art of salesmanship.
Later…DeVos got the idea of starting his own business while in high school. That isn’t unusual, but his results were. Years later, with high-school classmate Jay Van Andel, he started Amway, the door-to-door, direct-sales marketing firm that grew into one of America’s most successful private businesses, providing jobs to hundreds of thousands of independent sales representatives. “I’ve been a cheerleader most of my life, from leading cheers in high school to cheering on people to seize opportunities and realize their dreams,” he wrote in a 2014 memoir.
DeVos was a devout evangelical Christian and a born salesman. He believed in capitalism and he believed in individual capitalism, coining the phrase “compassionate capitalism.” He was a good example of wealth used to expand the fortunes of others. A series of significant investments in Grand Rapids—a university campus, civic center and pediatric hospital—spurred that city’s revival. Their family has dedicated years and its fortune to expanding the school-choice movement for children marooned in poorly performing inner-city schools.
In 2006, he told The Wall Street Journal that when he got married his wife told him they would follow biblical teaching by tithing, giving 10% of their income to charity. He said they never deviated from that rule, even in the early years of their marriage when money was tight, and allotted half of their charity to Christian causes. At speaking engagements, he described himself as “just a sinner saved by grace.” His five books included “Compassionate Capitalism” and “Ten Powerful Phrases for Positive People.”
There is a familiar saying about leaving the world a better place. Richard DeVos used his talent, beliefs and wealth to do exactly that.
Source: Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2018, print edition.