(Kent County, December 7, 2004, 6:08 p.m.) The giving spirit of Jay Van Andel was made possible by the overwhelming success of the business he and Richard DeVos created more than 40 years ago.
The story begins in the early 1950s when Jay and Richard established a network of independent distributors selling Nutrilite food supplements. Sales were on the rise then fell after the government questioned the nutritional value of the product. But that didn't stop Van Andel and DeVos.
"We have to believe in ourselves. You can't predict the future, but you can follow your dreams," Van Andel said at the We Touch the World Convention in 1991.
The Amway dream began in 1959 in an old garage on Fulton Street in Ada. This is where Jay Van Andel and his friend Richard DeVos created a multi-level marketing plan. They offered laundry and cleaning supplies to start-up entrepreneurs.
As Jay put it, these were products just about everyone was familiar with and could sell. Hard work leads to success, and for Jay and Rich, this was the American way, thus the name, Amway.
The sales force grew to more than 700 employees during the 1960s and offered more than 200 Amway products.
The success of the company has not been without controversy. In the late 1960s, the company was investigated by the Federal Trade Commission and was suspected of being a pyramid scheme.
Six years later, the FTC decided the multi-level marketing company was legitimate, although the suggestion is still made by detractors.
By the 1970s, millions of distributors were selling the dream.
"We touch the world convention...our attitude that Amway could be transplanted anywhere made us a global company," said Van Andel in 1991.
Amway's reach was spreading overseas to eight countries on three continents.
Amway's annual sales swelled during the 1980s to more than $1 billion, and distributors were offered incentives to grow their Amway businesses.
The 1990s rang in a new generation of leaders. Steve Van Andel and Dick DeVos succeeded their fathers as chairman and president, respectively. Doug Van Andel, another son of Jay's, is now president.
The company celebrated its 40th anniversary in 1999. Former President Gerald Ford attended the event and saluted Rich and Jay.
"The face of Grand Rapids reflects their generosity, their confidence in the future and the profound sense of stewardship," added Ford.
Alticor is now a $6.2 billion company located in 80 countries and territories.