For those who recognize the name Dick DeVos, the man has become virtually synonymous with Republican politics. This is partially due to his 2006 gubernatorial campaign in the state of Michigan where he is originally from and still lives today. In that race, DeVos narrowly lost to the popular incumbent, Jennifer Granholm. But he proved that a self-financed campaign by a political outsider could nearly unseat establishment figures, a revelation that presaged the election of Donald Trump to the presidency a decade later.
However, DeVos is far from a career politician. In fact, he has spent nearly the entirety of his life in other fields, mostly in the business world and as one of the most prominent philanthropists in the state of Michigan.
The DeVos family is famous for its role in the Amway Corporation. Dick DeVos’ father, Rich DeVos, and business partner Jay VanAndel started the firm in 1959 out of an empty garage. But unlike many scions of wealthy families, Dick DeVos was a hardworking member of the family business almost from the time he could walk. He recalls working on the weekends at the family business as being some of his earliest memories. And by the time he had graduated from Northwoods University, with a degree in business, he was ready to go work for the family firm on a full-time basis.
But DeVos wasn’t handed an executive role on a silver platter. As is demonstrated by the fact that none of his many siblings rose to the same levels that he did within the family company, Dick DeVos was forced to earn every promotion he got. By the early ‘90s, he had risen to the level of vice president, a position from which he was able to make one of the boldest moves in the history of Amway.
In the mid-1990s, Dick DeVos had the crystalline foresight to see a trend emerging that many people would only come to recognize decades later. Dick DeVos saw the potential of large-scale internet commerce. Before Amazon was even founded, Dick DeVos created Quixtar, an e-commerce arm of Amway that pioneered the business model that has Amazon has used to become one of the largest retailers in the world.
For Amway, the introduction of Quixtar marked a paradigm shift for the company. DeVos has been quietly credited with saving Amway at a time when that firm was embroiled in controversy and seeing slumping sales across the globe. But he is rarely recognized for being one of the most visionary businessmen of the last few decades for his role in pioneering e-commerce and being perhaps the first person in the world to demonstrate that such business models were viable on a global scale.
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