Amway in the 1980s: Growing the company, supporting the community

Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel are on either side of former President Gerald R. Ford at the ribbon cutting ceremony at the opening of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

Editor’s note: 2019 marks Amway’s 60th anniversary. We’re celebrating with a series of blogs highlighting the company’s history, milestones, products and legacy. Join the conversation by leaving a hashtag comment on each blog. Published comments will be entered into a drawing for free products in our Amway through the Decades Giveaway*!

Billion dollar mark

The 1980s began and ended as a boom time for Amway. Thanks to the power of more than 1 million distributors, Amway expanded into an additional 20 countries and topped $1 billion in sales for the first time.

Jay Van Andel, who co-founded Amway with his partner, Rich DeVos, made a video at the beginning of the decade celebrating the sales milestone.

“We reached the billion dollar mark earlier than Rich predicted,” Jay said. “Our growth continues to be spectacular.”

Investing in the company

Jay promised that he and Rich remained “committed to providing you with the support and service you need in the months and years ahead.

“Together we’ve accomplished great things during the past 21 years, and together we’ll reach new levels of achievement, leading the way into the 1980s.”

They made good on that promise, investing in a $10 million research and development epicenter at the Ada campus with a focus on product innovation. Today, Amway sells more than 350 products in North America and more than 450 across the globe.

Investing in the community

But Rich and Jay didn’t limit their efforts to their company. They were determined to help Grand Rapids bounce back from an era when people were abandoning downtowns in favor of suburban locales.

Rich was a key player in the revitalization of downtown Grand Rapids as chairman of the New Grand Rapids Committee, which led public and private investment to spur economic growth.

1980 saw the opening of the new Grand Center and original DeVos Hall, funded in part by major gifts from Rich DeVos and Amway. That was followed a year later by the transformation of the adjacent aging Pantlind Hotel into the new Amway Grand Plaza.

An aerial view of the skyline of Grand Rapids, Michigan, showing the JW Marriott Hotel, the Amway Grand Plaza and the DeVos Place Convention Center.

Big plans for the city

Sam Rehnborg, Ph.D., son of Nutrilite founder Carl Rehnborg, president of the Nutrilite Health Institute and who goes by Dr. Sam, recalls walking through the hotel with Rich.

“Rich took me on a tour of the Pantlind Hotel, which at the time was a rundown building,” Dr. Sam writes in his blog. “As we walked through the old hotel, Rich told me about his plans to restore the building to its former glory to set an example and encourage others to rebuild throughout the city.

“The passion and intensity with which Rich described his plans still amazes me today, almost 50 years later. He and Jay had a grand plan. They were going to help establish new schools, build hospitals, and help transform Grand Rapids into one of the top cities in the United States.”

The opulent interior of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, showing the gold leaf ceilings, massive original chandeliers and iconic, hand-carved sunburst sculpture.

Copyright James Steinkamp, Steinkamp Photography

Just the beginning

The renovation was completed and the new Amway Grand Plaza reopened in 1981 with a black-tie reception attended by former President Gerald Ford. The 29-story glass tower was added in 1983. At the opening, Jay said the hotel was “a pretty good measure of our commitment to the city of Grand Rapids and its people,” according to an article in the Grand Rapids Press.

This four-star, 682 room hotel, changed the skyline of the city and became the destination hotel for Amway Independent Business Owners visiting the company’s World Headquarters.

It was also the first of many projects in the city that would come to be thanks to investments by Rich, Jay or their company, including the DeVos Place Convention Center, the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Services, the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, the Van Andel Institute, the Van Andel Arena, the Van Andel Public Museum Center and the JW Marriott hotel.

In fact, a display at the Public Museum of Grand Rapids shortly after the company’s 50th anniversary imagined what the skyline of Grand Rapids and life in Grand Rapids would be without the generosity of the Amway founders.

A statue of Jay Van Andel sits in front of the glass facade of the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Leaving a legacy

Doug Small, president and CEO of Experience Grand Rapids, the city’s destination marketing organization, said the investment started back then by the entrepreneurial duo spurred a revitalization of the city’s core that continues to this day, helping build Grand Rapids’ reputation as a great place to live and visit.

“It’s obvious they set an example of community investment for others and it worked, including with their own children and grandchildren,” Doug said.

Indeed, Amway and the founding families continue to support community efforts. The company recently took over as title sponsor of the Amway River Bank Run, the largest 25K race in the country that’s been happening for more than 40 years. And ArtPrize, the annual art competition/exhibition event that draws more than 500,000 visitors to the city, was launched in 2009 by Rich’s grandson Rick DeVos.

“I can’t imagine what Grand Rapids would look like today without the support of the DeVos and Van Andel families and Amway,” Doug said.

What’s your hashtag?

A billion dollars in sales, millions invested in research and innovation, and a commitment to community – what hashtag would you use to describe Amway in the 1980s? How would you describe the community example Rich and Jay showed in helping to revitalize downtown Grand Rapids?

Post your hashtag comment below and be entered to win two packs of Nutrilite™ Wellness Bars, one Nutty Dark Chocolate and one Coconut Almond. And come back to Amway Connections for more blogs marking Amway’s 60th anniversary and opportunities to win our Amway through the Decades Giveaway*!


*The Amway through the Decades Giveaway is sponsored by Amway Corp. and runs from April 18 – July 1, 2019. No purchase necessary. See official rules here.

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