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 & Schuster): “Simply Rich: Life and Lessons from the Cofounder of Amway.” — one of world’s largest direct-selling companies, with sales of $11.billion last year.
Whatever the intended meaning of the title, 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, co-founder of Amway, who collaborated with DeVos in assorted small enterprises before they created Amway in 1959.
But this is more than a rags-to-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 fund-raiser 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 ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, now entering its sixth year, was the brainchild of DeVos’ grandchild Rick, the founding sponsor of the event is the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation.