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Van Andel, Jay 1924-2004

Van ANDEL, Jay 1924-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born June 3, 1924, in Grand Rapids, MI; died December 7, 2004, in Ada, MI. Businessman, philanthropist, and author. Van Andel was the cofounder of Amway Corp., an international distributor of cleaning and other household products. After attending Calvin College and Yale University for a couple years, he served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. After the war, he returned to school briefly, but his mind was already turning to business ventures. Owning a Piper Cub airplane, he decided to start his own flight school and charter business, partnering with friend Richard DeVos. In addition to running the flights, the two earned more income by operating a small hamburger restaurant. The partners then left airplanes behind for sailboats, running a sailing company in the Caribbean until their vessel sank. In 1949, Van Andel and DeVos started Ja-Ri Corp., which focused on selling the nutritional supplement Nutrilite. The two left that business to start Amway, which is short for American Way, in 1959. Starting with a number of cleaning products, Van Andel and DeVos used their experience with distribution to great advantage. They became so successful that they soon had to build their own soap manufacturing plant to keep up with demand, and they expanded into other products, such as cookware and beauty supplies. Their methods of selling, however, proved controversial. Amway set up a system in which sales people would actively recruit new sellers; a percentage of the sales earned by each new recruit would go to the people who hired them. This system would continue with each new generation of sales staff that was hired. It was a strategy that drew the attention of federal regulators, who suspected Amway of creating a "pyramid" scheme. However, the Federal Trade Commission was never able to prove their case. On the other hand, the government did successfully sue Amway for price fixing, and the Canadian government won a lawsuit concerning underreported sales by the company. Despite such problems, as well as attacks by former employees who published image-damaging books about the company such as Amway: The Cult of Free Enterprise, Amway managed to survive by entering the Asian market while American sales slumped. Van Andel remained active in his company until 1995, when he handed over the chairmanship to his son Steve. Having become a multimillionaire himself, Van Andel continued another passion: philanthropy. Over the years, he and his company donated large sums to a variety of causes, ranging from the National Symphony Orchestra to charities that supported medicine, education, Christian, and Republican causes. The recipient of numerous honors, including the George Washington Medal of Honor from the Freedom Foundation, the Adam Smith Free Enterprise award from the American Legislative Exchange Council, and several honorary degrees and other prizes, Van Andel recorded his experiences in his 1998 book, An Enterprising Life: An Autobiography.



Chicago Tribune, December 8, 2004, section 3, p. 11.

Los Angeles Times, December 8, 2004, p. B8.

New York Times, December 8, 2004, p. A29.

Washington Post, December 8, 2004, p. B6.

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