June 01, 2012
Amway: Bravo Leadership Award
by J.M. Emmert
Table of Contents
Intro • Global Outlook • Why the Global 100? • The 2011 DSN Global 100: The Top 10 • The 2011 DSN Global 100: 11-100 • Topping the Charts • DSN Global 100 • The $100 Million Club • Celebrating the DSN Global 100
Doug DeVos, President of Amway, accepts the Bravo Leadership Award at the DSN Global 100 Celebration held in April.
Amway President Doug DeVos likes to tell the story of the time his father, Rich, met with the Prime Minister of Malaysia after the company opened its overseas offices there. In the midst of a discussion of business and economics, the Prime Minister related the struggles his country was experiencing. Prices for Malaysia’s natural resources—copper, tin and oil—were being depressed in the global marketplace and it was negatively impacting the country’s economy. Times were tough. Then he laughed and said to the elder DeVos, “But it sounds like your business is going well. What’s the secret?”
And Rich DeVos, who had co-founded Amway Corporation in 1959 with Jay Van Andel, turned to the Prime Minister and said, “Well, Mr. Prime Minister, it’s simple. You may think the greatest natural resources of Malaysia are copper, tin and oil, but we believe the greatest natural resources of Malaysia are the people of Malaysia. And our business focuses on people.”
As the leader of the second-largest direct seller in the world, Doug DeVos has stayed true to the principles his father set forth that day: People are the foundation of any enterprise. And through his decade of stewardship, he has strengthened and built upon a family legacy that embraces the ideas, hopes and aspirations of today’s more than 3 million Amway independent business owners around the globe.
The Bravo Leadership Award
It is for this unwavering commitment to the people of Amway and his leadership role within the direct selling industry on the local, national and international levels, that Direct Selling News presented DeVos with the 2011 Bravo Leadership Award.
“Any time you’re recognized in your industry by your peers, it’s a tremendous honor,” says DeVos. “You want to be part of the team. So this is kind of like my teammates having a vote and saying ‘thanks’ in a very special way.”
It’s All about Teamwork
Since assuming the presidency in 2002, DeVos has led the company to record sales growth, including $10.9 billion in 2011. Of course, he would be the first to tell you that he did not do it alone. DeVos is quick to credit his partner, Amway Chairman and Co-CEO Steve Van Andel, the eldest son of Jay, for the valuable knowledge he has imparted during his tenure.
“We have different styles and that is part of the strength of our relationship,” says DeVos. “But the real strength comes as a result of common values and appreciation for our heritage. We also believe in the business. We start with the same foundation and appreciate each other. We work through things differently but start at the same place. And we talk and listen. It’s a give and take, a collaboration. This doesn’t mean we don’t disagree. But a disagreement doesn’t end the conversation. It might end it for a while, but we keep talking, especially if we really feel strongly about something. And we keep at it until we agree.”
Doug DeVos is quick to credit his partner, Amway Chairman and Co-CEO Steve Van Andel, for the valuable knowledge he has imparted during his tenure.
That reliance on teamwork harkens back to DeVos’ days at Purdue University, where he played quarterback for the Boilermakers. After practices the offensive and defensive teams would break up for different meetings. His first season there, the team was not doing very well. The offense was doing great—it was the No. 1-rated offense in the Big 10 when measured in yards gained—but the defense was definitely not the No. 1 with regard to stopping points scored against them.
“We spent a lot of our time patting ourselves on the back and blaming the defense,” says DeVos. “But it didn’t change our record. We were looking at a measure that we liked, but at the end of the day not the one that was most important. Yards gained is an interesting statistic, but it’s points scored that win and lose games.”
It was then that DeVos learned how important teamwork was to any success. “On a team, every once in a while you do something well. But when you screw something up, you have someone there to back you up. It’s nice to have that level of support.”
The same principles hold true for a company. “When there are a lot of people involved, it takes a lot of people to make something happen. And what you see on the field is generally only a very small representation of all the preparation, practice and activity that has taken place to get to a certain point. When you look around Amway, when you walk through the factories, look at distribution, the R&D, the distributors and every part of the organization, there are some interesting parallels to what it’s like being a player on a team sport.”
Belief in Others, Belief in the Business
Teamwork goes hand in hand with believing in others. And Amway’s success, says DeVos, is the result of its people—the employees, distributors and customers. They all bring a variety of skills, talents and passions to the business that he and Van Andel try to let them unleash.
“At Amway we are really happy to look back at our foundation—not just our history but also our heritage—and be proud of it,” says DeVos. “Our heritage is why we got started; it’s the mission. Dad and Jay fought for free enterprise, having a business of your own, our cause and the Founder’s Fundamentals of freedom, family, hope and reward, and our values. They also had a lot of genuine love and concern for each individual in this business. It wasn’t all about the money. They were driven by a desire to help people do more, be more.”
The other piece of creating a successful business is believing in the business. In 1999, the transition from first to second generation really took place. Doug’s brother Dick and Steve Van Andel created a foundation for change. And then one day a few years later, after he had succeeded his brother, Doug and Van Andel both received a forecast report that neither liked.
“So I was walking over to his office at the same time he was walking over to mine and we both agreed we could do better than what the report predicted,” says DeVos. “We weren’t reaching our potential. We believed in the business and we knew we could be better. We knew we could do more and we knew that in that process he and I would have to change. We would have to be willing to do things differently and think differently. And people throughout the organization did the same thing. Everyone believed in the business and our potential. We have been very fortunate, but we also know that every once in a while we’ll have to refresh and discuss what we’re missing.”
That belief in the business helped grow Amway into one of the world’s largest international enterprises. And the key to penetrating foreign markets and positioning the Amway brand? It was accomplished through two very adventurous guys—founders Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel.
“Everywhere they went in the world they wondered how they could bring the business there,” DeVos says. “Then in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Dick made a big push to enter new markets and the key was making sure our distributors went with us. When the whole international sponsoring plan was created and put in place, the people in these countries were the key to penetration.”
Those people helped solidly position the Amway brand. “We told the Amway story, but they took it and made it their own,” says DeVos. “Today in Russia, we’re a Russian company. In India we’re an Indian company. We happen to have a headquarters in America, but we try to be honorable guests in any market where we do business and adapt to the local needs of any market.”
The Hallmarks of Leadership
The willingness to change is one of the hallmarks of DeVos’ leadership style. Another is the belief that two heads are better than one, which was born of the partnership he witnessed between his father and Jay Van Andel.
“Dad was always comfortable with getting advice. He never felt that he had all the answers. He and Jay were always able to come together to find solutions. They didn’t find it was worth their time to assign blame when problems or challenges arose. Dad would say that 90 percent of an issue is figuring out what the problem is. And once it’s boiled down, the solutions become easier to find. Dad and Jay were always very focused and optimistic that a solution could be found. And those are a couple of things I’ve learned from them and their leadership styles.”
And it is what he hopes to impart to young entrepreneurs looking to join the industry. “If you’re a young person and you want to develop your business skills, direct selling enables you to see people lead and handle problems on a regular basis,” says DeVos. “It’s an incredible opportunity to learn skills you’ll use throughout your life. It’s a great industry to connect you to a mentor, a leader, a person that’s actually doing it. It’s so much more than an apprenticeship. You’re not just learning a trade, you’re learning life skills and business skills and seeing someone who genuinely cares about you as a person. Everyone is incentivized to help other people.”
In addition to partnership and the ability to change, DeVos also sees integrity, personal worth, personal responsibility and achievement as attributes of a good leader.
“Integrity—you have to be who you are on the outside just like who you are on the inside. Personal worth—you have to believe in people. Personal responsibility—you’ve got to be accountable to yourself; it’s up to you to do things. And achievement—you have to celebrate and want to be better.”
And one last attribute is one his dad and Jay believed in: good stewardship. “Being mindful of the fact that we’re only here for a period of time, that all this stuff in this world is temporary,” says DeVos. “There’s value in the people you meet and the relationships that you have. So we need to be good stewards of our resources and business.”
A Love for the Business
DeVos will admit that growing up as the youngest son of Rich DeVos he didn’t really believe he had a choice to do anything other than join his family’s company. However, after graduating from Purdue, he had an interesting experience with a family friend that truly held him to account for his future.
“If you are going to get into this business because it’s easy, then stop right now,” the friend told him. “With your last name being DeVos, you’ve got a shot at getting a job at Amway. But if that’s just what you’re going to do, save everyone the trouble. If you’re going to get into this business because you love it, then dive in with both feet.”
And DeVos has done just that—dive in with both feet. In addition to his duties at Amway, DeVos serves on numerous business and civic organizations at the international, national and local levels. He is a vocal advocate of direct selling and the economic and personal freedom the free enterprise system provides to progress-seeking individuals.
“What I love about the direct selling industry are the founders, operators and professionals that have taken on this commitment to work collaboratively to improve the overall industry so we’ll have more opportunities as direct selling companies,” he says. “That’s a great attitude and pretty rare.”
It is his mission to share the belief and confidence that direct sellers have—the anticipation for the future and the confidence in what the future will bring—with millions more around the globe.
And as he leads his company into the future, DeVos remains forever committed to Amway’s greatest resources: its people.
“While we’ve had a very successful history, it’s important for us as an organization to build on our history—not go back to it, not to lament that it’s history—but to take it and use it and say, ‘We’re going to build on it and make it even better.’ ”