An Entrepreneur

An Entrepreneur

Miles of Pacific Ocean separated Rich from his friend Jay when both were serving in the Army Air Corps in World War II. But even war could not interrupt their friendship – or their conviction that they would one day start their own business.

Victory stirred Americans with a patriotic fervor that the sky was the limit. Rich and Jay shared that enthusiasm and were confident from their Army Air Corps experience that airplanes would change the skies of post-war America. Rich invested the entire $700 in savings from his military pay to purchase a Piper Cub airplane with Jay. Still in their early 20s, they opened Wolverine Air Service, a flight school near their hometown of Grand Rapids. Neither knew how to fly, but they hired pilots as trainers while they turned their talents to selling lessons to students using their sales pitch: “If you can drive a car, you can fly a plane.”

Photo Gallery: An Entrepreneur

A Business Taking Flight

Rich and Jay next to a Navion plane from their civilian flying school, Wolverine Air Service. The school was just one of the businesses the two enterprising young men opened.

An Adventure at Sea

Rich and Jay en route to the Caribbean in 1949 aboard Elizabeth, the 38-foot schooner they purchased that was too long in dry dock. The boat sank off the coast of Cuba. Rich and Jay were lifelong friends who had the same sense of values as well as a shared sense of adventure.

A New Venture

Rich and Jay in the mid-1950s with their team of Nutrilite distributors. They were among the most successful Nutrilite distributors and used that experience to found Amway in 1959.

Top Sellers

Rich and Jay graced the cover of Specialty Salesman in 1958 as top Nutrilite representatives.

President and Chairman

Rich and Jay brought a decade of shared business experience into their roles as president and chairman, respectively, of Amway.

Products Everyone Needs

Rich and Jay Van Andel founded Amway with household cleaning products – products, as Rich used to say, everyone needs and uses.

The American Way

Rich and Jay in 1965, six years after founding Amway in the basements of their homes. Years later, products were conceived, manufactured and distributed at a mile-long complex not far from their homes.

A Laugh Between Friends

Rich and Jay were lifelong friends and business partners who took Amway from the basements of their homes to more than 100 countries and territories around the world.

National Icons

Rich and Jay on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. Rich was honored with many national awards over the course of his life and career, including being named "Socially Responsible Entrepreneur of the Year" in 1992. In 1979, the year this photo was taken, Rich was inducted into the Direct Selling Association Hall of Fame.

Everything for the Home and More

Rich in Amway’s warehouse, surrounded by many of the household products the company originally manufactured and sold. Today Amway focuses on innovative nutrition and beauty products, too.

Inspiring and Motivating

Rich was a lifelong cheerleader who enjoyed giving speeches as often as he could. His speeches always inspired and motivated people to set goals and believe in their ability to achieve them.

Champions of Free Enterprise

Rich and Jay believed in the power of capitalism and free enterprise – so much so that they named their Amway world headquarters building the Center for Free Enterprise.

Leading Leaders

Rich at the Amway Founders Council in 2003. Founders Council is a gathering of Amway's top distributors from all around the world.

A Golden Anniversary

Rich in 2009 celebrating the 50th anniversary of Amway.

The World Stage

Rich spoke to an audience of tens of thousands of Amway distributors in Tokyo in 2004.

Cars were still the dominant and rapidly growing transportation choice. The forward-looking business partners decided their next venture would be one of the new types of eateries just arriving on the scene – a drive-in restaurant. Their ambition was not sapped by the need to sell flying lessons by day and flip burgers by night at their Riverside Drive-in.

They were supporting themselves as business owners, but the two adventurous entrepreneurs were getting restless. Intrigued by tales of sailing in the Caribbean, Rich and Jay felt the urge to do more than simply read about the experience. They bought a 38-foot schooner that had been too long in dry dock and set sail despite neither having sailing experience. After getting lost a couple times, they hugged the Eastern Seaboard on a southern course until their leaking boat finally sank off the coast of Cuba.

Rich often recounted this adventure in books and speeches to illustrate the “can do” attitude ingrained in his philosophy of life and business. “Too many people never try to do anything because they’re afraid – afraid of failure, that someone might criticize them or laugh at them, they don’t have enough training or experience. To them I say, ‘Set a goal and go for it.’”

Rich was speaking from experience about persistence despite setbacks. The market for flying lessons never peaked as people had thought.  Not being experienced short-order cooks, Rich and Jay dumped trays of hamburgers that were left too long under the broiler. Late in life, Rich still joked that for years they had an inventory of springs and wheels left from the toy wooden horses they decided to manufacture – just as a major toy company introduced a beautiful molded-plastic model. But they never gave up.

After trying everything from importing hand-carved Haitian mahogany household products to running an organic bakery, the business partners in 1949 finally were introduced to an opportunity that Rich at first viewed with skepticism but that would prove to be tailor-made for his talents and become the foundation for his future.

The opportunity was Nutrilite, a direct sales plan for natural dietary supplements. Few Americans at the time saw the need to supplement the vitamins in their balanced meals and the term “organic” had next to no meaning. But Jay’s cousin was claiming a Nutrilite income of $1,000 a month, and the small investment to get started posed little risk. Within 10 years, Rich and Jay were two of Nutrilite’s most successful distributors.

Building on that success, in 1959, the duo founded what would become their biggest and most successful venture—Amway.

The new direct selling company initially offered soap—some of its first products were Liquid Organic Cleaner and SA8 Laundry Detergent. But in a larger sense, Amway really offered its new force of distributors something far more valuable—hope.

Since then, Amway’s low-cost, low-risk opportunity has brought home care products—and today leading health and beauty brands—to more than 100 countries and territories.

Amway today generates sales of more than $8.6 billion annually. In doing so, the company has helped millions of people around the world live better lives.

Video: Laying the Foundation

Sailing, Flying and Driving Toward Success

Rich spoke about how the origins of Amway began in a decision that he and Jay Van Andel made to purchase a Nutrilite sales kit for $49. He noted some of the pair's earlier business ventures, including one involving the import of Haitian mahogany wares. 

Victory stirred Americans with a patriotic fervor that the sky was the limit. Rich and Jay shared that enthusiasm and were confident from their Army Air Corps experience that airplanes would change the skies of post-war America. Rich invested the entire $700 in savings from his military pay to purchase a Piper Cub airplane with Jay. Still in their early 20s, they opened Wolverine Air Service, a flight school near their hometown of Grand Rapids. Neither knew how to fly, but they hired pilots as trainers while they turned their talents to selling lessons to students using their sales pitch: “If you can drive a car, you can fly a plane.”

Photo Gallery: An Entrepreneur

A Business Taking Flight

Rich and Jay next to a Navion plane from their civilian flying school, Wolverine Air Service. The school was just one of the businesses the two enterprising young men opened.

An Adventure at Sea

Rich and Jay en route to the Caribbean in 1949 aboard Elizabeth, the 38-foot schooner they purchased that was too long in dry dock. The boat sank off the coast of Cuba. Rich and Jay were lifelong friends who had the same sense of values as well as a shared sense of adventure.

A New Venture

Rich and Jay in the mid-1950s with their team of Nutrilite distributors. They were among the most successful Nutrilite distributors and used that experience to found Amway in 1959.

Top Sellers

Rich and Jay graced the cover of Specialty Salesman in 1958 as top Nutrilite representatives.

President and Chairman

Rich and Jay brought a decade of shared business experience into their roles as president and chairman, respectively, of Amway.

Products Everyone Needs

Rich and Jay Van Andel founded Amway with household cleaning products – products, as Rich used to say, everyone needs and uses.

The American Way

Rich and Jay in 1965, six years after founding Amway in the basements of their homes. Years later, products were conceived, manufactured and distributed at a mile-long complex not far from their homes.

A Laugh Between Friends

Rich and Jay were lifelong friends and business partners who took Amway from the basements of their homes to more than 100 countries and territories around the world.

National Icons

Rich and Jay on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. Rich was honored with many national awards over the course of his life and career, including being named "Socially Responsible Entrepreneur of the Year" in 1992. In 1979, the year this photo was taken, Rich was inducted into the Direct Selling Association Hall of Fame.

Everything for the Home and More

Rich in Amway’s warehouse, surrounded by many of the household products the company originally manufactured and sold. Today Amway focuses on innovative nutrition and beauty products, too.

Inspiring and Motivating

Rich was a lifelong cheerleader who enjoyed giving speeches as often as he could. His speeches always inspired and motivated people to set goals and believe in their ability to achieve them.

Champions of Free Enterprise

Rich and Jay believed in the power of capitalism and free enterprise – so much so that they named their Amway world headquarters building the Center for Free Enterprise.

Leading Leaders

Rich at the Amway Founders Council in 2003. Founders Council is a gathering of Amway's top distributors from all around the world.

A Golden Anniversary

Rich in 2009 celebrating the 50th anniversary of Amway.

The World Stage

Rich spoke to an audience of tens of thousands of Amway distributors in Tokyo in 2004.

Cars were still the dominant and rapidly growing transportation choice. The forward-looking business partners decided their next venture would be one of the new types of eateries just arriving on the scene – a drive-in restaurant. Their ambition was not sapped by the need to sell flying lessons by day and flip burgers by night at their Riverside Drive-in.

They were supporting themselves as business owners, but the two adventurous entrepreneurs were getting restless. Intrigued by tales of sailing in the Caribbean, Rich and Jay felt the urge to do more than simply read about the experience. They bought a 38-foot schooner that had been too long in dry dock and set sail despite neither having sailing experience. After getting lost a couple times, they hugged the Eastern Seaboard on a southern course until their leaking boat finally sank off the coast of Cuba.

Rich often recounted this adventure in books and speeches to illustrate the “can do” attitude ingrained in his philosophy of life and business. “Too many people never try to do anything because they’re afraid – afraid of failure, that someone might criticize them or laugh at them, they don’t have enough training or experience. To them I say, ‘Set a goal and go for it.’”

Rich was speaking from experience about persistence despite setbacks. The market for flying lessons never peaked as people had thought.  Not being experienced short-order cooks, Rich and Jay dumped trays of hamburgers that were left too long under the broiler. Late in life, Rich still joked that for years they had an inventory of springs and wheels left from the toy wooden horses they decided to manufacture – just as a major toy company introduced a beautiful molded-plastic model. But they never gave up.

After trying everything from importing hand-carved Haitian mahogany household products to running an organic bakery, the business partners in 1949 finally were introduced to an opportunity that Rich at first viewed with skepticism but that would prove to be tailor-made for his talents and become the foundation for his future.

The opportunity was Nutrilite, a direct sales plan for natural dietary supplements. Few Americans at the time saw the need to supplement the vitamins in their balanced meals and the term “organic” had next to no meaning. But Jay’s cousin was claiming a Nutrilite income of $1,000 a month, and the small investment to get started posed little risk. Within 10 years, Rich and Jay were two of Nutrilite’s most successful distributors.

Building on that success, in 1959, the duo founded what would become their biggest and most successful venture—Amway.

The new direct selling company initially offered soap—some of its first products were Liquid Organic Cleaner and SA8 Laundry Detergent. But in a larger sense, Amway really offered its new force of distributors something far more valuable—hope.

Since then, Amway’s low-cost, low-risk opportunity has brought home care products—and today leading health and beauty brands—to more than 100 countries and territories.

Amway today generates sales of more than $8.6 billion annually. In doing so, the company has helped millions of people around the world live better lives.

Video: Laying the Foundation

Sailing, Flying and Driving Toward Success

Rich spoke about how the origins of Amway began in a decision that he and Jay Van Andel made to purchase a Nutrilite sales kit for $49. He noted some of the pair's earlier business ventures, including one involving the import of Haitian mahogany wares. 

  Up Next: A Life Enricher »

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Information on events to celebrate the life of Rich DeVos.

Tributes to Rich DeVos

People from all around the world have shared memories, stories and messages about the impact Rich DeVos had on them.

Rich DeVos believed that true wealth came from spirituality and family. Thank you for choosing to donate to one of the organizations Rich supported in his lifetime.