How to Be Like Rich Devos: Succeeding With Integrity in Business and Life
By Pat Williams
"I used to work in a sign-painting business," recalls Paul Collins, an African-American artist from West Michigan. "I got to know Rich DeVos because we did the lettering on Amway vehicles. I told him that I wanted to be an artist and paint for a living, and Rich told me how to go about it. He said I needed to be independent in order to succeed, and he helped me find investors so that I could launch myself as an artist. Rich was so open and generous with his time-just like a surrogate father.
"We became close friends, and his door was always open to me. The fact that I was black and he was a white Republican billionaire just never seemed to matter. I had a dream of becoming an artist, and he wanted to help me. Because he cared enough to men - for me, I have lived all over the world, doing my painting."
John Eldred, a consultant to the DeVos family, told me, "What Rich did for Paul Collins is typical of what he does in all of his mentoring relationships: He takes a dependent relationship and turns it into an independent relationship. He shows people how to stand on their own feet and achieve their own dreams."
Rich DeVos is one of the greatest mentors I know. He has mentored scores of people in the principles of business and success, including Steve Van Andei, the son of Rich's partner, Jay Van Andel. "When I got out of school," Steve told me, "I started working at Amway Corporation. Rich took me on a five-city tour with him that was called 'An Evening with Rich.' We did leadership - training sessions each day and held a rally each night.
"I remember I was going through some personal issues at the time, and I really wanted to talk to Rich about it, but I was nervous about approaching him. Billy Zeoli was traveling with us, and he could see that something was bothering me, so he said something to Rich while Rich was in a meeting.
"Wouldn't you know it? Rich dropped what he was doing, left the meeting, sought me out and took me to his room for a talk. It was such a relief to be able to talk to him about that issue, and he gave me some very good, wise counsel. That's what a mentor does: stop and help. Rich cares more about people and their needs than he cares about a meeting or an agenda or a schedule. I admire that, and I try to do the same thing. I want to be the kind of person who will drop everything in order to give people my time and help when they need it."
Steve's younger brother, Dave Van Andel, says, "I had two fathers growing up-Dad and Rich DeVos. Our families lived next door, and we spent a lot of time in each other's homes. Rich mentored by example as much as by word, and a teacher who is a great example is the most effective mentor you can have."
Marc Lovett is an event producer who has produced many theatrical shows. "Alticor is a client of ours," he told me. "We produced a series of major events in Japan a number of years ago. We took eighteen performers with us for the events, and Rich DeVos spoke each night. I particularly remember one story he told of a Vietnamese refugee who had escaped from the communists in a boat, and had come to America and had succeeded in America. The way Rich told the story, you felt you were right in the boat with the man as he made his escape.
"At the last event in the series, Rich gave a toast to the performers and to us as an expression of gratitude for the work we had done. I appreciated that so much. Afterwards, Rich took me aside and gave me some tips on the ways of Japanese culture. He told me what to say and how to address the Japanese people when I spoke. Looking back, I realize that it was actually a lesson in respecting others and thinking beyond oneself. Rich cared enough to mentor me because he genuinely cared about me as a person. I continually marvel at the way he cares about people and goes out of his way to help them."
Karen DeBlaay, daughter of longtime IBO Bernice Hansen, told me, "I asked Rich to mentor me in the area of stewardship. I called his office and his secretary said that Rich would call me in an hour. Sure enough, he called and gave me the guidance I needed. He gave me an unlimited amount of his time to help me."
In these few stories, we catch yet another glimpse into the soul of Rich DeVos, and we discover one more reason for his enormous success and influence: Rich DeVos is a mentor.
Why Be a Mentor?
Helen DeVos explained to me Rich's motivation for mentoring others. "It comes from his faith," she said. "Jesus mentored the disciples. He taught them, spent time with them and laid down his life for them. Rich looks at the life of Jesus and says, 'That's my example. That's the pattern for my life.' So being a mentor to others just flows from who Rich is and what he believes.
"As a mentor, Rich is always encouraging and teaching, always passing along insights and experiences. He doesn't usually say, 'Here's what you should do.' More often he'll say, 'I faced a similar situation, and this is what I did, and here's what happened as a result.' He gladly shares his own experiences and the things he has learned, but he doesn't force it on anyone.
"Anyone who asks Rich for counsel and advice will receive it.
He doesn't turn anyone down. And at the end of the conversation, he always says, 'Feel free to come back to me anytime.' He is so generous with his time."
Rich's son-in-law and Orlando Magic CEO, Bob Vander Weide, says, "Why is Rich a mentor to so many people? Because he can't help himself! He loves people so much and he wants to see them succeed, and he clearly has plenty of insight to share about life. He's been a mentor to all of us in the family and in his businesses. He doesn't mentor in a forceful or intimidating way. He mentors by encouraging, by cheerleading. He loves to cheer you on to do your best.
"Right now his emphasis is on mentoring the grandchildren. He feels they are his legacy-not Alticor, not the Magic, not the many charities and foundations he supports. No, his legacy is his grandchildren, and he is continually encouraging, teaching and mentoring them. In a way, his grandchildren are his gift to the world, and he believes that they will go on long after he is gone, and they will help make the world a better place."
Bob's wife, Cheri Vander Weide, also reflected on the mentoring commitment of her father, Rich DeVos. "Dad is a teacher at heart," she says, "and as he's gotten older, he has become even more of one. He has acquired wisdom and experience far beyond that of the average person, and he has a desire to impart that wisdom to others. He wants to take advantage of every teaching opportunity he has."
Former Amway chief operating officer Bill Nicholson takes us inside his mentoring relationship with Rich. "There's a big difference," he says, "between mentoring and teaching. Mentoring goes much deeper than teaching. A teacher goes over material with you, gives you an assignment and evaluates your performance on a test. There may be some one-on-one interaction in a teaching situation, but most of the process takes place in a classroom, and it's fairly impersonal.
"But mentoring, as Rich does it, involves a relationship. It's a form of instruction that reaches the learner at a much deeper, more personal level. Rich is a great teacher and motivator when he stands up before an audience. But he is an even greater one-on-one mentor. I'll give you an example.
"One day, some years ago, Rich and I had been in an employee meeting. After the meeting, he took me aside and said, 'Bill, let me give you a suggestion. I watched you in that meeting. Next time, why don't you spend some time letting people get to know you? You've got a good sense of humor-you ought to let it come out more. Take time with people and show them you're interested in them as people. If they get to know you better, they'll like you and trust you. You'll find it's easier to get the results you want.' That was great advice, and he was right-and that's just one example of hundreds of moments where Rich has been a mentor to me."
My friend Rich DeVos has been a great mentor to me and to many other people in the Orlando Magic organization. John Weisbrod, chief operating officer of the Magic, told me how much he appreciates the mentoring relationship he has had with Rich.
"As a mentor," says John, "Rich teaches you in such a way that you hardly notice how much you are learning. He doesn't make you feel incompetent or inferior. He never says, 'Now, let me sit you down and impart all my knowledge to you because, boy, do you need it!' He's so casual about the way he approaches you that it's totally disarming. He suggests different approaches, he tells stories from his own experience, he identifies with you, he coaches you and encourages you, he inspires you to go out and do what you never thought you could do. That's the key to great mentoring: inspiration. A teacher can impart knowledge and information, but only a real mentor can fill you with the inspiration and the belief that you are capable of more than you ever imagined."