Amway co-founder and local business legend Richard M DeVos is 77 years old. His heart, transplanted six years ago, is only 45. The way he figures it, his average age must be somewhere around 60.
No matter what type of math you use, one thing is for sure: the local business legend is far younger than his years. He talked about what keeps him young and what’s made him successful last week at the annual meeting of the Western Michigan Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG).
“You don’t have to know everything to do something,” DeVos told the sold-out crowd of about 250. “You never know everything. You have to go with what you’ve got, and see where it takes you.”
ACG is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering corporate growth through new business and market development, mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures and other business initiatives. The Western Michigan Chapter — whose members include Cascade Engineering, Wolverine World Wide, Stryker Corp. and leading service firms — hosts a variety of educational and networking events every month for its members. The organization’s annual dinner packed the Pantlind Ballroom of the Amway Grand Plaza to hear DeVos share the story of the path that led him from humble beginnings to the co-founder of Amway.
“Move forward. Look ahead. Make decisions,” DeVos said. “You have to help yourself. No one will do it for you.”
DeVos said he and lifelong friend JayVanAndel decided as young adults they would someday own their own business. He said the fact that they weren’t afraid to do things no one else wanted to do sometimes led to success, and sometimes led to failure. Through it all, they remained loyal friends and business partners.
“People ask how our partnership has survived, and it’s really a simple secret,” DeVos said. “We never used the words ‘I told you so.’ We never spent time placing blame. We only spent time fixing what went wrong, and moving on.”
DeVos emphasized that it’s OK to fail, and certainly nothing to be afraid of if you can learn from it and move on. He said his biggest failure in life came six years ago when he nearly died waiting for a new heart. He was an aging, diabetic 70-year-old man who had suffered one stroke — not a likely candidate for a transplant. But one doctor took a chance on him and succeeded.
Today, DeVos takes medicine daily to keep his body from rejecting the new heart. He says it’s a humbling lesson: Deal with problems as they come up, then get back on your feet and move on. DeVos has relied heavily on his faith and family to get where he is today, and freely credits God with his successes in life.
The lessons were not lost on the audience of CEOs, lawyers, accountants and other executives. Nor were they lost on a group of high-school students invited to the event.
ACG invited a small group of Grand Rapids Central High School students from the School-to-Career Progressions program to attend the event. The mentoring and education program helps reduce high-school dropout rates by helping at-risk students envision their lives after high school. The students listened intently as DeVos spoke with them individually, and then signed copies of his book, “Hope From My Heart,” for each of them.
“I told him that one day, I want to own a hotel and a basketball team, just like him,” said Central senior MichaelSwingrum, who also told DeVos he hopes to play professional basketball. “He told me to work hard, never give up, stay focused, stay motivated and never quit. And he said he’d keep his eye on me.”
- Pity poor EdFernandez. The vice president and general manager of WXMI FOX-17 in Grand Rapids has been named to a similar position with Telemundo’s WSNS, Channel 44, in Chicago. Fernandez has 20 years of experience in the broadcast business, is a stand-up guy, is involved in the community and will do well in Chicago, which is a step up for him.
No, the problem is that Fernandez is a die-hard Detroit Lions fan. He’s bled and rejoiced with the boys in Honolulu blue and silver for years. Now — gulp! — he’s moving his family to the Windy City, heart of NFC North rival … Da Bears. The choices are not good: Either continue to root for the Lions and be ostracized by his new friends, or change colors and support a team that’s actually worse than Detroit. Good luck, Ed. Oh, and best wishes at the new job, too.
- They may or may not hold a recall election this year in California, but that’s OK. California is just, well … different. Only last week, Gray Davis — California’s much-maligned governor — paid tribute to the incredible diversity of his state.
Its all-inclusive population, he said, has residents from every planet.
That’s true. That’s what the man said in a gush of political enthusiasm. And it raises an interesting question. These life forms from the other planets … are they the illegal aliens to whom he wants driver’s licenses issued?
- When Hurricane Isabel roared ashore into Virginia and North Carolina, it also caused problems in Washington, D.C., destroying electrical service to up to 800,000 people.
Unfortunately, we hear that Isabel didn’t take any power away from Congress.