In 2015, Forbes named the DeVos family twentieth on their list of America’s 50 Top Givers, with lifetime charity donations of $1.2 billion. Most of that money has stayed in West Michigan – Amway’s headquarters are in Ada, and the DeVos and Van Andel families own or have bequeathed a considerable portion of Grand Rapids, and are often credited for catalyzing the revitalization of downtown. Of the $94 million the DeVos family gave in 2014 alone, $54 million of it stayed in Grand Rapids. Much of it went to public schools and Grand Rapids–based hospitals, arts programs, and faith-based organizations providing services to the homeless.
Just like 97% of the direct sales and network marketing representatives, I earned now money with Amway. Did I make a sale or two? Yes I did, but I also paid for my product or monthly auto-ship to keep my business center and account active and eligble to earn commissions. So therefore I basically broke even and didn’t make an income with Amway Global. I too was blaming the company and was calling it an Amway Scam.
The problem for Amway distributors (or any other genuine MLM company) entering the game late is that it is difficult for them to sponsor new distributors. It is also difficult for them to sell Amway products given that there are so many distributors already operating in the market and they have selling relationships in place. Also, products sold by MLM companies typically tend to be more expensive than similar products being sold in the open market, making it more difficult to get customers willing to buy.
Occasionally, though, it can be useful to mention poverty in a certain context. Inspired by the personal and business philosophies of DeVos and Van Andel, Cross spent the ten years after writing Commitment to Excellence researching the two men, culminating in his 1995 self-help book Choices with Clout: How to Make Things Happen – by Making the Right Decisions Every Day of Your Life. Much of the book is compiled from interviews with the Amway founders and top-level distributors. In a passage about excellence, Van Andel outlines the proper way for an Amway distributor to rationalize the issue of poverty:
To opponents, right to work ran counter to every story Michigan told itself about who it was, a repudiation of generations of hard-won gains. In metro Detroit, labor’s historic triumphs are retold like folklore by men with thick, calloused hands, lest future generations forget the Battle of the Overpass or the Flint Sit-Down Strike. Right-to-work, labor feared, would undo much of that.
Amway Center is one of the most technologically advanced venues in the world. Inside the building, a unique centerhung installation, manufactured by Daktronics of Brookings, South Dakota, is the tallest in any NBA venue. It maximizes creative programming options by using high resolution, 6mm-pixel technology on each of the 18 displays, including two digital ring displays and four tapered corners. Additional displays include approximately 2,100 feet (640 m) of digital ribbon boards, the largest of which is a 360-degree 1,100 feet (340 m) display surrounding the entire seating bowl. These displays have the ability to display exciting motion graphics and real time content, such as in-game statistics, out-of-town scores, and closed captioning information. Outside the building, a large display utilizes more than 5,000 Daktronics ProPixel LED sticks, each a meter long, which make up a 46 feet (14 m) by 53 feet (16 m) video display. This display will reach millions of motorists traveling by the Amway Center on Interstate 4.
As secretary, it’s likely DeVos will pursue a national expansion of school choice and charters. In this, DeVos has an ally in President-elect Trump. “There's no failed policy more in need of urgent change than our government-run education monopoly,” Trump said in a September 8 speech. “It is time to break up that monopoly.” In that speech, Trump proposed a $20-billion block grant program to fund national vouchers administered at the state level. “Parents will be able to send their kids to the desired public, private or religious school of their choice,” Trump said.
While the DeVoses campaigned on expanding educational choices for parents and students, their opponents reframed the issue. “When you really looked at it, the parents weren’t the ones with the choices; the parochial schools were the ones with the choices,” Matuzak remembers. “If all you do is transfer the money, you don't transfer any of the other requirements that are put on public schools. Public schools are required to take everyone who comes through the door. But private schools, parochial schools, get to pick and choose. … It’s not really the parents who have the choice, it’s the schools. And people ultimately understood that.”
Ultimately, however, he dealt with his catch-22 through simple fantasies of escape. He was adamant that someday he’d be a millionaire, his current predicament no more than a bad memory. His hand would describe a hyperbola as he explained that The Business was hard at first, but if you’d just stick in there, you’d soon enjoy exponential success. This would happen so soon that he wouldn’t have to prospect long enough even to get particularly good at it. “The point is not to get good,” he insisted, “It’s to get done!”
It is rare to see poverty mentioned in Amway’s literature. When it is, it’s usually in the context of an Amway distributor having escaped it. Success is equated with wealth. With wealth is promised an enhanced way of life, one crafted of your own dreams – and Amway gives you The Plan to achieve that life. To let your attention stray from The Plan is to invite doubt and negative thinking, which can only result in failure. ‘As successful distributors tell people they are recruiting, the pursuit of excellence can be achieved only when they discipline themselves to tune in the positive dialogues and tune out the negative ones,’ says Cross. Poverty makes us feel bad. Feeling bad is negative. Negativity causes failure. It makes poverty feel contagious. So don’t think about it.
I loved the days when we’d go to the Bayou Club as a family. We began going immediately after joining Amway, when I was in second grade. The development was new, still under construction. There was space between the houses and the far stretch of the golf course undulating luxuriously around them. Model homes rose from the landscape like castles, bigger than any houses I’d ever seen – and vacant. Never occupied. Empty dreams, waiting to be filled.