Amway uses broad mix of aircraft to develop opportunities and further company growth

Multilevel marketing giant keeps its business personal using fleet of large-cabin Gulfstreams, Bombardier Challenger 300s, Cessna Citation CJ3s and Sikorsky S76.

By Phil Rose
Managing Editor

Amway Aviation has a staff of 63, including 31 pilots, 19 technicians and 3 schedulers. The fixed-wing fleet stays busy year-round, flying Amway personnel to visit customers and attend company events both in the US and overseas.

In the 1950s, 2 friends in west Michigan began selling dietary supplements door to door. By 1959 Jay Van Andel and Rich DeVos had hit on a revolutionary business plan that included multilevel marketing and direct sales.

Since then Amway—the company launched by DeVos and Van Andel 50 years ago—has become one of the largest private companies in the US and among the largest retailers in the world.

Amway products and services include home care, health and beauty products—including the original Nutrilite dietary supplements—air and water purifiers, insurance and hotel management.

Amway’s first home care product—a multipurpose liquid organic cleaner now sold as LOC—was an instant sales success. DeVos and Van Andel invited others to join them and participate in the benefits of the growing business.

To this day, reward and recognition for independent business owners and distributors are central to Amway’s business model. Home care products and cosmetics proved to be big sellers. Within 10 years Amway was offering more than 200 products, by which time the company had over 100,000 distributors and a workforce of more than 700.

In the 1970s Amway expanded overseas, opening markets in 8 countries outside the US, including Australia, the UK, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Amway Japan, founded in 1979, rapidly became one of the company’s largest markets.

The following decade saw Amway expand into water supply research and development, and launch the successful eSpring water treatment product line. As estimated annual retail sales exceeded $1 billion for the first time, Amway expanded its US headquarters in Ada MI and built a new plant for the development and manufacture of cosmetics products.

Expansion continued through the 1990s, with annual retail sales passing the $5-billion mark. Amway Chairman Jay Van Andel and Pres Rich DeVos were succeeded by their sons Steve Van Andel and Dick DeVos, respectively.

In 2002 Dick DeVos left the company to pursue other ventures, and his younger brother Doug took over as president and co-CEO, where he remains to this day. Still a privately held company, Amway today has more than 3 million distributors (or independent business owners) and affiliates in more than 80 countries.

(Main photo) Amway headquarters and manufacturing plant in Ada MI. (Insets L–R) Company Founders Rich DeVos (L) and Jay Van Andel, Amway Grand Plaza and JW Marriott Grand Rapids operated by Amway, eSpring water purifier, Nutrilite mineral/dietary supplement, Artistry Essentials.

In 2008, estimated total retail sales exceeded $8 billion. Rich DeVos, Amway’s founder and former president, attributes a great deal of the company’s success to its GRR (Grand Rapids MI)-based flight department—a flight department that currently comprises 3 Gulfstream G400s, 2 Gulfstream Vs and a G550, 2 Bombardier Challenger 300s, 2 Cessna Citation CJ3s and a Sikorsky S76B.

Heading up flight department ops is Amway Aviation Dir Rick Fiddler. The department’s 63 staff—which includes 31 pilots, 19 maintenance/support personnel and 3 schedulers—all report to him.

Fiddler in turn reports directly to VP Corporate Relations Robin Horder-Koop, whom he describes as a firm supporter of flight department growth and development.

Growth and vision

It would be hard to find a more passionate advocate of business aviation than Amway Founder Rich DeVos.

“Without a flight department we wouldn’t be where we are,” he says. “I don’t know where we’d be, but we surely would not be all over the world like we are.” While DeVos’s own love of aviation goes back to the years after WWII when he ran a successful flight school at GRR, Amway’s flight department came into existence when the company was 5 years old and growing.

An early business trip to Canada had prompted Rich DeVos to charter a Mooney piston single. Flying direct gave Amway such a clear advantage that, from then on, whenever the need arose, DeVos would charter an airplane—first a Cessna 310, then a Piper Aztec.

In 1964 he leased, and then bought, a IAI Jet Commander—an event that marked the official start of Amway’s flight department. As the company grew, so did its travel needs, and the Jet Commander was replaced by a Rockwell Sabreliner and later a pair of Lockheed JetStars.

Amway Corp Pres & CEO Doug DeVos (L) with Chairman Steve Van Andel.

Later still, Amway acquired 2 BAC 1-11s and worldwide operations became possible. “By that time,” recalls DeVos, “we had a hangar and were beginning to run our own operation.” DeVos is clear about the rationale for having a flight department.

“Part of it was to get us home for the weekends. If we were going to ask people to go out on the road and to events on Friday nights or Saturday nights, we felt we ought to get them back home as soon as we could.” He continues, “Our business would not be where it is today if we didn’t fly.

We’re a person-to-person-type business, and we believe in being in touch with our people.” He adds, “We do a lot of community outreach, because part of being a successful company is to participate in your community and help it where you can.”

DeVos has much to say on negative public perceptions of business aviation, noting that critics “have never had to run a worldwide business.” He continues, “If you don’t value your people, go ahead—let them fly commercial.

We value our people and we respect them—and we value their time just as we value our own time. From a corporate stand­point we believe our people should be treated with respect. “Some people ridicule companies for having an expensive jet airplane.

Well, it’s a tool for doing and getting more business. We wouldn’t be all over the world if we didn’t have airplanes. “Amway’s a product of the jet age and the computer age.


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