Steve Van Andel: Selling Entrepreneurship Globally

Oct 31, 2009

Steve Van Andel is carrying on the family business of creating entrepreneurs. 

Van Andel is chairman of Ada, Michigan-based Alticor, a privately held $8 billion company that operates in more than 80 countries and territories and employs more than 13,000 workers. Alticor’s best-known operating unit is Amway, the direct-selling business started in 1959 by Jay Van Andel, Steve’s father, and Jay’s best friend and lifelong business partner, Rich DeVos. Amway supports more than 3 million independent business owners around the globe.

“My dad and Rich started the company with a very simple idea—that everyone, no matter what their financial or educational background—could start their own business and be their own boss,” says Steve.

After serving in the military, Jay Van Andel and Rich DeVos purchased a small plane for $700 and started a flying school called Wolverine Air Service. While the business was reasonably successful, the partners questioned its long-term potential and sold it.

In 1949, Jay’s cousin told the pair about his business selling a nutritional food supplement product called Nutrilite. Rich and Jay invested $49 for a sales kit and products and set out to recruit distributors. Within the first year, they grossed $82,000. In 1958, the pair struck out on their own, creating the American Way Association, which later became Amway.

The Alticor family of companies has reported sales growth in seven of the last eight years. Amway now sells more than 450 personal products, from vitamins to mascara, all over the globe. Alticor also has interests in Interleukin Genetics; Gurwitch Products, LLC, which develops and markets the Laura Mercier and ReVive brands; Metagenics; and Amway Hotels Corporation.

Steve Van Andel and Amway President Doug DeVos have carried on the families’ proud tradition of philanthropy, including playing a major role in the resurgence of nearby Grand Rapids, Michigan. Steve has also continued his family’s tradition of advocacy on behalf of the business community. Both he and his father served as chairman of the U.S. Chamber.

“We have a great story to tell about how business improves peoples’ lives,” Steve says.

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