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September 01, 2011

Exclusive Interviews

Ray Chambers: In the Business of Benevolence

by Barbara Seale with John Fleming

To say that Ray Chambers is sold on direct selling is an understatement. He believes it can be a catalyst to the world’s economic recovery.

Ray Chambers
Ray Chambers

In an exclusive interview with Direct Selling News’ Publisher John Fleming, Chambers—philanthropist, businessman and owner of Princess House—reflected on the global economy, saying it’s as confusing as he has ever seen it. The United States has become globally interdependent and no longer dominates the manufacturing world, since manufacturing jobs tend to go where wages are the lowest. And high-tech jobs are only available to a few highly qualified individuals. So job creation is difficult, at best. But in his opinion, there’s an answer for all those problems and more: direct selling.

“Anybody who has ambition and good intentions can do well in the direct selling business,” Chambers says. “We have such wonderful leader companies that are setting an example of high standards, good value and unlimited economic opportunity. That can play itself out—and has to a large extent—throughout the rest of the world where they can’t create enough manufacturing or high-tech jobs to take care of economic needs.”

His vision for direct selling isn’t just about economic prosperity, either. With his big-picture viewpoint, Chambers says its effects can even help contribute to peace.

“If those economic opportunities could be presented across the globe in the developing world, as well as in the developed world, then I believe there’s a chance that so much dissatisfaction and anger that exists in the world—and that manifests itself in destructive activities like terrorism—could be abated.”

He hopes that direct selling executives throughout the industry will join him in his vision. In fact, he thinks it’s essential for change.

“Without the leadership of the direct selling industry, I really don’t believe that is going to happen. Even with that leadership, it’s clearly an uphill battle and one that has to be fought with great diligence and top-flight execution. But I do think that direct selling is as entry-barrier-free as any business, and it’s one that produces millions, if not tens of millions, of new economic opportunities throughout the world.”

Commerce and Charity Converge

Chambers knows about economic opportunity. In both his business interests and much of his charitable work, creating this opportunity has been one of his key goals. He is the former Chairman of Wesray Capital Corp., which he co-founded with William E. Simon, the former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. But over time his philanthropic pursuits eclipsed his interest in business. So in 1989 he closed the company, put all his assets in trust, and devoted himself to full-time philanthropy. Since then, he became the founding Chairman of the Points of Light Foundation and the Co-Founder of America’s Promise–The Alliance for Youth, with former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Chambers is the Co-Founder of the National Mentoring Partnership and served as Chairman of The Millennium Promise Alliance. He also founded Malaria No More, and served as its Chairman until his appointment as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy for Malaria. Even now, he still has an eye for business and has been instrumental in the revitalization of the City of Newark, in his home state of New Jersey. He was the founding Chairman of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. This year Time magazine named him to its list of “100 Most Influential People in the World.”

Chambers became interested in direct selling through his philanthropic interests. Almost 20 years ago, his foundation provided scholarships for 1,000 at-risk teenagers in New Jersey. But Chambers didn’t just dole out money. He also got to know the families. He noticed that some scholarship recipients came from homes where the lone parent wasn’t employed, and he worried that the children in the household didn’t have a good role model. He asked the mother of one of his scholarship winners what kind of work she would like to do, and then he helped her get the training required for the job. He watched over time as her self-esteem rose, her income increased, and she was able to buy her first home. Just as important to him, her progress was a positive influence on her children.

Chambers began considering what else the foundation could do to provide economic opportunity when someone told him about a direct selling company in the area. Intrigued that the company could provide significant income to so many, Chambers looked into acquiring the company. The acquisition didn’t work out, but Chambers was so fascinated by the direct selling concept that he kept looking. Through a friend, he learned that Colgate might be interested in selling its single direct selling enterprise, Princess House. This time, he sealed the deal. The company’s majority shareholder since 1994, Chambers recently became its sole owner.

“We set on a course to make Princess House successful, and at the same to try to find and recruit those who otherwise didn’t have economic opportunity,” he recalls.

Over the years Chambers has met many Princess House success stories, and he spreads the word of their achievements as he travels around the country. He is especially touched by stories of immigrants who came to America with only their strong work ethic to support them, found Princess House, and grasped the opportunity it offered to transform their lives.

“I’ve witnessed one story after another of how this direct selling business, Princess House, gave these women an opportunity for financial independence,” Chambers says. “As important, they got respect from their family members and I saw how grateful they were and are to Princess House. I’m sure that’s true in many other direct selling companies. They certainly wouldn’t have that in their country of origin. Our original thesis has been proven time and time again. I really think the direct selling business can be a major—if not the major—bridge between the haves and have-nots in our country.”

Just Do It

Chambers strongly supports the creation of economic opportunities, both through business and through philanthropy. In fact, he thinks the two have great synergy, and he encourages direct selling executives to seek out opportunities to help those less fortunate.

“You’re always concerned about whether your work will be meaningful or meaningless, and you wonder if people will reject your good intentions, and will you be like a fish out of water,” he says. “Don’t worry about those things. Give it a try.” He adds, “Go out of your way to help anybody in need. Then get detached from the outcome. It doesn’t matter if they thank you or resent you, or if your efforts work or didn’t work. It’s really what you get out of the purity of your intent.”
Chambers distills his philosophy into five key values he has developed over many years:

  • Find a way to serve
  • Stay in the moment
  • It’s more important to be loving than right
  • Step back and reflect on your own thoughts
  • Be grateful every day

He shares those values with his extensive network of philanthropists and businesspeople. He believes they are the paths to happiness and stand on their own merits, but they also produce results.

“If you have a corporation where the culture is built around those five values, my sense is that it would be a much more cooperative workplace,” he notes. “If objectives were built around that philosophy, everybody would be more aligned. At the end of the day, you’d have a much more successful business.”