Category: Philanthropy

Dick DeVos: Business and Educational Reform Leader

When it comes to business leaders who give back to their community, I think you would be hard pressed to find better examples than Dick DeVos and his wife, Betsy DeVos. They have been philanthropists and reform advocates for over thirty years. Best known for educational reform, their interest in advancing school choice started when they visited a Catholic school in Michigan that served many low-income families, who were struggling to afford sending their children there. Thirty years later, 17 states now have school-choice programs, with 250,000 students in publicly-funded programs. Betsy DeVos is chair of the AFC (American Federation of Children) and the Alliance for School Choice.

Dick DeVos graduated from Northwood University and studied at Harvard Business School, before joining Amway, the company which his father had helped to found. Starting in 1974, DeVos worked in all of the company’s operational areas, including research and development, manufacturing, marketing, and sales, eventually becoming a vice president in 1984. He is credited with establishing Amway’s international presence, with international sales eventually reaching 50% of the business’s revenue. In 1993, he was appointed CEO of Amway. In addition to serving as CEO of the multinational firm, in 1991, the DeVos family purchased the Orlando Magic basketball team, and Dick DeVos became CEO of the franchise.

School choice and vouchers are definitely an issue on which Dick DeVos has shown tremendous leadership and courage on. After taking on the cause in the early 90s, they became chairs of the Educational Freedom Fund, a scholarship fund that helps Michigan families afford the school of their choice. They campaigned for school choice around the country, and in my view the school choice movement never would have achieved this level of success without the leadership of the DeVos family.

Although the Dick DeVos and his family are extremely committed to educational reform, as philanthropist they have supported community, civic, and cultural causes through the Dick and Betsy DeVos foundation. In addition, their dedication to educational choice is not limited to making speeches and raising money. Dick DeVos also established the first aviation charter school in the country in Grand Rapids.

DeVos was the Republican nominee for governor of Michigan in 2006. He ran on a platform emphasizing job creation and argued that under the previous Democratic administration, the state was losing too many jobs to neighboring states. In 1998, DeVos also published a book entitled Re-Discovering American Values.