Fittingly, my encounter with Amway began during a long-term temp assignment at Andersen Consulting’s ENTERPRISE 2020 project, an ongoing exhibit to which consultants would bring potential clients to scare them about the future. The main attraction was a battery of “industry experts” who produced customized nightmare scenarios to help manufacturing executives from across the globe see the Third Wave coming at them. The experts would discourse gravely about globalization, accelerating technology, managed chaos, self-organizing supply chains, flex-this, flex-that, and nano-everything, eventually arriving at the message of this elaborate sideshow: The future is not to be faced without an Andersen consultant on retainer.
Amway gives some idea of real chances for success in its “Amway Business Review” pamphlet, which the FTC requires it provide to all prospects. The “Business Review” is an ingenious mixture of mandated honesty and obfuscatory spin: The average monthly gross income for “active” distributors, for instance, is revealed to be a meager $65 a month; but the “Review” leaves out the median income and the net profit, both of which would probably be negative. Likewise, it states that “2 percent of all ‘active’ distributors who sponsor others and approximately 1 percent of all ‘active’ distributors met Direct Distributor qualification requirements during the survey period.” From this, it derives the optimistic conclusion that “once again, the survey demonstrates a substantial increase in achievement for those who share the business with others.” Increase implies that there are some non-sharing distributors who succeed; an alternate reading of the statistics would be that all distributors try to share, none succeed without sharing, but only half are able to share. It’s also a measure of Amway’s PR savvy that every article I’ve seen (even the critical ones) that mentions the number of Directs uses the 2 percent, rather than the more accurate 1 percent, figure.
A class action lawsuit was filed in 2007 against Quixtar and some of its top-level distributors in California, alleging fraud, racketeering, and that the products business and the tools business are pyramid schemes. A similar case filed in California in August 2007 by TEAM affiliated IBOs whose contracts had been terminated was dismissed. On November 3, 2010, Amway announced that it had agreed to pay $56 million to settle the class action, $34 million in cash and $22 million in products, and while denying any wrongdoing or liability, acknowledged that it had made changes to its business operations as a result of the lawsuit. The settlement is subject to approval by the court, which is expected in early 2011. The total economic value of the settlement, including the changes to the business model, is $100 million.
Dick DeVos, on stage with his wife, echoed her sentiments with a lament of his own. “The church—which ought to be, in our view, far more central to the life of the community—has been displaced by the public school,” Dick DeVos said. “We just can think of no better way to rebuild our families and our communities than to have that circle of church and school and family much more tightly focused and built on a consistent worldview.”
At this point, he wanted to test my commitment to the business. He asked me how much time I would be willing to put in to save $600 a month. I was confused. Why should I have to put in time to save $600 if all I have to do is purchase at their hub? It was at this stage he realized that maybe he went a few steps too fast but I noticed his reaction and realized something else was up. I told him I would get back to him and that was the end of it for me.
In Western Michigan, what matters isn’t how Amway is run, but what the DeVoses have done for the community. Drive through downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan’s second-largest metropolis, and the family’s contributions are omnipresent. There’s the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. A few blocks west, hugging the Grand River that bisects the city, you’ll find the sleek DeVos Place Convention Center, the DeVos Performance Hall and the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. Across the water, the campus of Grand Valley State University is anchored by the spacious Richard M. DeVos Center. A few blocks north is the DeVos Learning Center, housed at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. (You would be forgiven if you assumed that DeVos, not Ford, had been president.)
Such pandering to heartland values has (along with record-breaking donations from Rich DeVos) endeared Amway to the Republican Party. But the company has also had its share of critics. In the seventies a succession of defectors charged that The Business (as the faithful call it) was a pyramid scheme, a fraudulent enterprise that made money by recruiting new members and channeling their fees to higher-ups in the organization. A 1979 Federal Trade Commission investigation concluded that Amway was not in fact a pyramid scheme—only that some of its claims to prospective distributors were overly optimistic—because most of its revenue came from sales of actual products. But that didn’t end the company’s troubles. During the Reagan years, Amway was the butt of jokes and the target of exposes. Senior distributors set up private “distributor groups,” organizations dealing in motivational materials and notorious mass rallies. Dexter Yager, founder of the Yager Group, was known to leap around stages brandishing a giant gold crucifix.
In 2017, a Chandigarh court framed charges, under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code and the Prize Chits and Money Circulation Scheme (Banning) Act, against two directors of Amway India, William Scot Pinckney and Prithvai Raj Bijlani. This was based on a cheating case filed by eight complainants in 2002, following which the Economic Offences Wing had filed chargesheet in 2012. A revision plea moved by the two Amway officials against the framed charges was dismissed in 2018.
In 2006, Amway China had a reported 180,000 sales representatives, 140 stores, and $2 billion in annual sales. In 2007 Amway Greater China and South-east Asia Chief Executive Eva Cheng was ranked No.88 by Forbes magazine in its list of the World's Most Powerful Women. In 2008, China was Amway's largest market, reporting 28% growth and sales of 17 billion yuan (US$2.5 billion). According to a report in Bloomberg Businessweek in April 2010, Amway had 237 retail shops in China, 160,000 direct sales agents, and $3 billion in revenue.
That same year over $4 million of DeVos’s money went to Hope College, a private liberal arts school affiliated with the Reformed Church in America – in which Rich DeVos was raised – while $2.2 million went to Calvin College, associated with the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Of the $90.9 million in philanthropic donations the DeVos family made in 2013, 13 percent went to churches and faith-based organizations: $7.5 million to the King’s College, a Christian college in New York City; $6.8 million to the Grand Rapids Christian Schools; and $1.05 million to the Chicago-based Willow Creek Community Church, an evangelical megachurch. As DeVos puts it in Simply Rich, ‘My Christian faith and outreach . . . remain strong after all these years. The Christian church and Christian education are high on our list of giving.’ He goes on to say:
He tells us the club no longer has an initiation fee – they were forced to waive it six years ago in response to the economic downturn. ‘You have the top two or three clubs in the area – Bayou Club, Belleair Country Club, and probably Feather Sound – with no initiation fees to join,’ he says. ‘It makes it very easy to be part of a club these days.’
Georgia put the game away by halftime with a 42-7 lead that included three touchdown passes from sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm, another from freshman signal caller Justin Fields as well as his first career rushing touchdown, and a 100-yard rushing performance from junior tailback Elijah Holyfield, the first of his career as well. Sophomore wideout Jeremiah Holloman turned in a breakout performance with three grabs for 90 yards and a touchdown.
I can promise you will lose friends and lovers. If that's worth it to you then go forth, but be aware that for the participant (or victim) in this, your loss of friendships will sometimes be invisible, and occasionally worth much more than you ever thought. It's an honest decision - you shouldn't be friends with someone who treats you this way. Every single person who has fallen into this trap I have seen lose friends in the long run, even if we tried to see past it. It's a black mark of a terrible person. When someone tells you who they are, you should listen to them.
In their zeal, Josh and Jean shuttled me to at least one meeting too many. The worst was a Seminar, an afternoon of “professional training” definitely geared to insiders. Here, during a marathon transfusion of spine-stiffening resolve, I got a glimpse of just how demoralizing the travails of Amway could be. The speaker, Conrad Halls, a Hollywood cameraman with over-the-hill golden-boy looks, had been frank and congenial in his First Look the night before. His debunking of negative Amway stereotypes included the almost touching refrain, “I hope you don’t think I flew 3,000 miles to show you that kind of business,” spoken with a candid stare and open, outstretched arms.
It was very good at the beginning, loved the selection. The products went a long way, they were very effective and did the job, I loved the personal interaction with the distributor, things came on time and full order. However, products were not cost effective, they were very expensive to ship and the constant pressure to become a distributor was unnerving. I just wanted to buy the products annually.
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.