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The Privilege of Richard DeVos

January 20, 2010

I forced myself to go hear Amway co-founder Rich DeVos give a lecture today as part of Calvin College’s January Series. It’s important to hear people with power, especially for independent media, since one of the fundamental tenets of journalism is to scrutinize power.

DeVos focused on his most recent book, Ten Powerful Phrases for Positive People. The phrases are not anything new or terribly enlightening, they are just phrases that we all have been taught by parents or teachers at some point in our life. Phrases like, “you can do it,” “I believe in you,” “I trust you,” and “I respect you.”

DeVos shared personal stories about how he has tried to apply each of the ten phrases he wrote about in his book and much of the discourse was framed in his interpretation of the Christian faith. DeVos kept saying, “our task as Christians is to be life enrichers.

However, as he kept sharing stories and reflecting on his own life I couldn’t help but think about what a privileged life he has led. When I say privileged I don’t mean, “what a privilege it is to be here.” I am talking about the kind of privilege that few people in the world have, privilege that comes with wealth and power. DeVos has been a millionaire then billionaire for more than 50 years. He has traveled around the world countless times and has had access to those in political power for decades.

Several times he shared stories about conversations with US presidents and other stories about interactions with prominent business leaders. DeVos even had the arrogance to begin his talk by thanking the crowd for such a warm welcome and then saying that it surprises him sometimes because, “a prophet is never welcomed in his own country.” That phrase was historically attributed to the Hebrew prophets because they challenged and condemned the power structures of their day.

As he kept talking and trying to weave small pearls of wisdom with his phrases he would eventually say things that to this writer really reflected who Rich DeVos is. When talking about the phrase “I need you,” DeVos mentioned that Amway was sending supplies to Haiti because “the Haitians need us.” He also added that we shouldn’t give them everything because then they won’t learn to do for themselves. Apparently, DeVos think that Haitians are just chronic charity cases who are only looking for handouts.

When discussing the phrases “I believe in you,” DeVos shared the story about how he went to the Grand Rapids Press once to chastise then editor Mike Lloyd for criticizing the amount of money Arendt Lubbers was receiving as the GVSU President. DeVos said we need men like Lubbers and then said he was upset with the way that Wall Street executives were being treated now. “Wall Street people have done a great deal to build up this country.” DeVos went on to say that he was recently talking to former President Clinton and expressing his frustration with Obama and his “anti-Wall Street” positions. I’m not sure what DeVos means since the Obama administration has been fine with handing over billions of taxpayer’s dollars to bailout Wall Street for their corrupt financial practices.

Another phrase that DeVos mentioned was “Thank You.” During his reflections on this phrase he talked about how he was against the most recent government push for health care reform. He said, “we tried all kinds of things to defeat it and then along came this guy from Massachusetts. The hand of God is so evident.” DeVos was referring to the recent victory of Republican Scott Brown who is replacing a seat in the Senate vacated by the death of Edward Kennedy. It is believed that Scott’s victory will signal a defeat of the President’s health care plan in the Senate.

The last phrase that DeVos touched on was, “I Love You.” In reflecting on this phrase DeVos recounted how much family support he received while in England where he had a heart transplant. At one point DeVos went as far as saying that the new heart was a gift from God. Apparently his financial wealth had nothing to do with it.

DeVos finished his talk by reading a Christian bible phrase and a story about how he told a group of US Marines recently to keep the quote on a piece of paper while serving in the next tour of duty. The phrase was, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” I wondered to myself if this is what these young men would be thinking while shooting Afghani civilians.

In the end I was glad I went. This way I could share with some people a perspective that is not likely to appear in any of the other news media in West Michigan, as is evidenced in a short piece that appeared on the Grand Rapids Press online source this afternoon.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Robert DeMaagd permalink
    January 20, 2010 8:59 pm

    Massachussetts and the hand of God? Are you still puking Jeff? Scott Brown is a
    mysogonist.I’m hoping you can copy the curling iron video link before they pull it. The real Scott Brown is exposed in the video .

  2. Peter Ruark permalink
    January 20, 2010 10:21 pm

    I could not make out what was being said, Robert. Would you transcribe?

    Jeff, did most of those in attendance seem like cheerleaders or was there visible frustration among others in the audience? I remember going to hear Elizabeth Fox Genovese at the same series about ten years ago, and as she railed on and on against feminists there were some clearly audible sighs and tongue-clicks.

  3. January 20, 2010 10:28 pm

    Peter, I was not at Calvin College, but another location they had a satellite feed to. There were only 25 people at that site, but most people seemed to respond favorable to DeVos’s comments. The audience was mostly 40/50 and older and from what I could see were all White.

  4. Deanna G. permalink
    January 20, 2010 11:02 pm

    Jeff:
    I could share some things with you about the inside workings of the industry that Jay & Rich created. I was involved with ‘Quixtar’ (a secretive branch of Amway) for 8 years. It is very much right wing Christian…and the belief is right wing means that they are right and everyone else is wrong (God, devil mentality). Sad..very sad!

  5. Robert DeMaagd permalink
    January 21, 2010 12:46 am

    The far right smeared Coakley with the old Willie Horton tactic . A boston globe article talks about the video and the ugly mysogonistic tone of brown’s campaign. http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2010/01/18/brown_supporters_trying_to_suppress_vote_by_bullying/?rss_id=Boston.com+–+Local+news

    from article “Coakley is accountable for her record as a prosecutor – and for her campaign mistakes. But her opponent should also be accountable for the unpleasant rhetoric that some of his supporters are embracing in the last hours of this hard-fought campaign.

    Messages posted on Coakley’s campaign Facebook include these vicious sentiments: “Scott Brown should rape Martha Coakley and then deny her emergency contraception’’. “Martha Coakley getting raped would complete my life.’’ “Abortion is wrong. Kill her.’’ After one message that states “Looking forward to the rally Friday, Martha,’’ a woman named Amelia Bosley writes:“Hope she gets shot.’’ Imagine putting your name to that in the name of political change. “

  6. Jeff Smith permalink*
    January 21, 2010 1:51 am

    Deanne, if you are willing to share about your experiences with Quixtar that would be great. There was an excellent book written almost 20 years ago called “Amway: The Cult of Free Enterprise” which looks at the religious revival mentality of Amway gatherings and the tactics that the company uses to recruit new sellers. Any updated testimonies would be welcomed, since I think it is rare that DeVos and company get challenged in the news media.

  7. Paul Haan permalink
    January 21, 2010 3:49 am

    I’d love to sit down with Mr. DeVos and listen to a Dylan tune called “With God on Our Side” (http://www.bobdylan.com/#/songs/god-our-side).

    Somehow I doubt his response would be “well, what do you believe?”

  8. Deanna G. permalink
    January 21, 2010 5:20 am

    Jeff:
    It is a very long story..I will tell you that the inner workings of the ‘independent business owners’ (what a joke) discriminated against me as a woman trying to do the business without ‘the head of my household’, (as they saw it); and the political propaganda that was pushed down our throats at the quarterly conferences is one of the main reasons that I decided to move on (the last film we saw reminded me of something Hitler would have shown his linchmen), it was masked with Patriotism, but conveyed to many in my group that anyone that wasn’t of their thinking as the ‘terrorists’. I had within my group; atheists, agnostics, Hindu’s, Christians, Spiritualists, Buddhists, Jews, but most important independent thinkers that were disgusted at what they were being exposed to. The leaders would even say a prayer before every meeting “in Jesus’ name”. Very unsettling, to say the least, for all different faiths.

    Everytime we would bring it to the leaders on our team they would say that we needed to be, in so many words, more tolerant.

    It is the story of a great business idea (free enterprise) that religious kooks get ahold of and turn it into a cult masked as a independent business model that anyone can do.

    Deanna G.

  9. Mojo Rizen permalink
    January 22, 2010 4:55 pm

    I worked for Amway Corp. for 10 years, and heard Rich speak on many occasions. There were monthly 1-hour meetings for all employees to attend, where Rich (or, once, Jay VanAndel) would talk about what was happening in the business. There would generally be some religious references, though not usually extremely prominent, except in the Christmas program,where Rich would always read the story of the manger birth, wise men, angels, virgin and all.
    Since his heart transplant- which I heard he paid a doctor in the UK thirty million dollars to be moved to the top of the list- and as he has gotten older, Rich has become increasingly religious, I think. But he was always fiercely Republican, and the employees got fed lots of that during election years. I know he is an extremely gifted speaker, and I always enjoyed hearing him, except for the right-wing propaganda. Is this the first time you’ve heard him, Jeff?
    Dick DeVos, Rich’s son, who as Amway president oversaw a marked contraction in Amway’s business in the late 90’s, was nowhere near as good a speaker, though he was much more overtly religious. His degree was from Spring Arbor College- in Divinity. Perhaps that’s why the family forced him out of his leadership role at Amway.
    A related story: NPR/ Michigan Radio has been running a series where they ask people what citizens can do to improve life in Michigan. One of the people they interviewed was Rick DeVos (Rich’s grandson and heir, who was the organizer of the ArtPrize competition). Rick’s advice: Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s how we learn. Just get up and try again.
    Hearing that, I thought: What a typically DeVos thing to say. So what if you lose a million bucks on this effort? There’s another one, right here in the back pocket, waiting to be lost.– Their patricianism just astounds me, even as they rail against the “liberal elite”.
    Sounds just like GW Bush, doesn’t it? Does it seem to anyone else that these Republican zealots really, deep down, just want to be preachers?

  10. January 22, 2010 8:52 pm

    I have heard Rich DeVos speak before and have been writing about him, Van Andel and Amway for the past 20 years and what kinds of projects they support. Media Mouse has some good archived material on what DeVos’s foundation gives money to and other right wing projects he is involved in. http://www.mediamouse.org/resources/right/people/richard-devos

  11. Adubbs permalink
    January 24, 2010 3:21 pm

    Devos also talked about how to scam old people and force your family and friends to buy crappy products not made in America. He also announced that he is going to change the name of his company to Scamway.

  12. Ben permalink
    March 16, 2010 5:39 pm

    Jeff, thanks for posting your perspective and your opinion! I’m glad you kept it mostly a factual recounting of the topics Rich covered in his talk. Thank God we live in a free country under God where we can learn from extremely successful people like Rich and then get your opinion on it afterwards!

    Sincerely
    Ben

  13. F. Bacon permalink
    October 10, 2011 4:21 am

    The reason the multi-level marketing scheme worked for them is because products were sold within the closely affiliated church member families who will sacrifice for one another in any venture, be it sound or not. On the outside, others will not support one another when they have made a bad choice, and if the product is not exceptional it will fail. Not being in the church community, I can’t recall seeing any Amway products in my friends’ homes for over 20 years. Progressives tend to shun the system.

  14. July 16, 2012 3:21 am

    bohoo.

  15. July 16, 2012 3:44 am

    I worked for this man and his family for 10 years. Have not talked to him for 20 years but I have a deep admiration for him to this day. He is not only positive but result oriented. Our current govt brags about growth . Keep drinking the cool-aid pretty soon they will kill the goose that laid the golden egg.Our current Govt acts like cudsue (sp) it is an evasive species that devours its host and replaces nothing. It just moves on and keeps destroying what our country was founded on. It’s no wonder they want God out of the mix because our current retards want to be god at the expense of my freedom. Liberalism is a mental disorder and you can bank on it. The gentle man that did an end run on Rich DeVos is either very jealouse and has realized he has no significant accomplishments in his life.I think he has fullfiled the dream of maxing out the peter principle. Next time you do an article leave your ax home and do a little grinding on your own accomplishments.

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