Billionaire Richard DeVos, co-founder of direct-selling giant Amway, owner of the Orlando Magic and father-in-law of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died Thursday. He was 92.
Family spokesman Nick Wasmiller says DeVos died at his western Michigan home due to complications from an infection.
DeVos was born in Grand Rapids, not far from Ada, the community about 140 miles west of Detroit where he later lived and died.
DeVos purchased the Magic in 1991, buying them from a group headed by Orlando real estate developer William duPont III. Since then, the team has won five division titles, had seven seasons of 50-plus wins and made the NBA Finals in 1995 and 2009. In 2016, he was inducted into the Magic’s Hall of Fame.
“Mr. DeVos’ boundless generosity, inspirational leadership and infectious enthusiasm will always be remembered. Simply, he was the team’s No. 1 cheerleader and the best owner that a Magic fan could ever want for their team,” Magic chief executive officer Alex Martins said in a statement released by the team on Thursday.
“When the DeVos Family purchased the Magic, his vision was that the team and organization would serve as a platform to improve the Central Florida community. That legacy will certainly live on, both in the Orlando Magic’s community efforts and philanthropic contributions, as well as in the way we strive to play the game with passion, a strong work ethic and integrity, while also bringing people together from all walks of life.”
The Orlando Sentinel‘s Brian Schmitz and Josh Robbins report that in recent years, the DeVos family restructured its ownership group through estate planning, changing several roles within the team:
In recent years, the DeVos family restructured its Magic ownership group through estate planning, Magic Chief Executive Officer Alex Martins said several years ago. The four children of Rich and Helen DeVos now own the largest stakes in the franchise, although ownership of the team also extends into other generations of the family, Martins said.
Rich DeVos most recently held the title of senior chairman within the Magic hierarchy.
One of his sons, Dan, serves as the team’s chairman and represents the Magic on the NBA Board of Governors.
DeVos was not without his critics. He caused a stir in 2001 when he said that local hoteliers needed to get their “grubby little fingers” off hotel-room taxes. DeVos wanted to use that revenue, in part, for a new arena for his team.
His quest for a new arena finally happened in the summer of 2007 and, by 2010, the Amway Center opened. The Magic said the DeVos family contributed more than $100 million to those efforts.
In 1949, he and friend Jay Van Andel took $49 and invested the modest amount into manufacturer and vitamin direct-seller Nutrilite. They became independent vitamin distributors and later used the company’s person-to-person selling approach when starting Amway in Ada with an all-purpose household cleaning product.
They coined the name Amway as an abbreviation of “American Way.” Over five decades, Amway became a multibillion-dollar international corporation. Van Andel died in 2004.
“Rich and my father built this company from the ground up, and in many ways Rich was the heart and soul of Amway,” said Steve Van Andel, Amway’s chair. “His vision and spirit inspired our employees and independent business owners for more than 50 years.”
Michigan’s Republican governor described DeVos as “an incredible businessman, philanthropist and true Michigander.”
— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) September 6, 2018
“The positive impact Rich had on our state is truly immeasurable,” Rick Snyder said Thursday. “Through successful business ventures and charitable endeavors, he created endless opportunities for residents of many different ages and backgrounds. Rich’s giving spirit is how we will always remember him, and his legacy is certain to live on forever.”
Amway was not without controversy. The Federal Trade Commission charged in 1969 that the company was an illegal pyramid scheme, but ruled after a six-year investigation that it wasn’t.
Amway also has been controversial because of its almost evangelical zeal in promoting free enterprise, and gained attention with DeVos’ and Jay Van Andel’s high-profile participation in Republican politics. DeVos was a major supporter of the Republican Party and was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the Presidential Commission on AIDS in 1987.
DeVos and his late wife, Helen, also donated to Christian churches and ministries and various other causes through their Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.
DeVos also supported Grand Valley State University in Allendale. In the 1970s, he served on its governing board. He later became president of the university’s foundation board.
“Rich gave so much of himself to Grand Valley. His enthusiasm and vision were contagious, and drew the entire community together to help provide a world-class education to West Michigan citizens,” Grand Valley State President Thomas J. Haas said in a written statement.
DeVos and Van Andel also helped revitalize downtown Grand Rapids, and many buildings and institutions in the city bear the names of the men or their company.
DeVos graduated from Grand Rapids Christian High School and attended Calvin College. He served from 1944-46 in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
His son, Dick, is married to Betsy DeVos, who was appointed Education Secretary by President Donald Trump. He is also survived by three other children, two sisters and a number of grandchildren.
Services have not been finalized.
An award-winning, inspirational speaker, he motivated hundreds of thousands of independent business owners worldwide and kept a full schedule of speaking engagements for a variety of business and charitable organizations across the country. A self-proclaimed “cheerleader,” he promoted the values of freedom, family, faith and philanthropy in books plus thousands of speeches and interviews around the world. As a reflection of his strong Christian faith, he was known for introducing himself at speaking engagements as “just a sinner saved by grace.”
Mr. DeVos wrote five books: BELIEVE! (1975), Compassionate Capitalism (1993), Hope From My Heart (2000), Ten Powerful Phrases for Positive People (2008), and Simply Rich (2014). Simply Rich is a memoir reflecting on his work, faith, family, and the core values he held onto from his humble, Christian upbringing through his success as co-founder of Amway.
DeVos was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Helen, and is survived by their children and spouses Dick and Betsy, Dan and Pamella, Cheri, and Doug and Maria; grandchildren and their spouses Rick and Melissa, Elissa and Nate, Andrea and Michael, Ryan, Cassandra and Heath, Sydney and Andrew, Cole, Hannah, Katie, Ben, Jessa, Addie, Dalton, Micaela and Jordan, Monreau, and Olivia; and great-grandchildren Clara, Sloane, Remington, Richard, Wilhelmina, Aurelia, Taggart, and Riven. He is also survived by two sisters, Bernice Heys and Janice (Bob) Courts.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.