In Tough Times, Optimism is Key, Says Amway CEO

May 2, 2012

While it may seem like the country is headed in the wrong direction or not recovering fast enough, the nation's proud legacy of free enterprise and entrepreneurship should engender optimism, says Steve Van Andel, chairman of Amway.

“This country has faced far worse realities than what we’re experiencing these days. But we can’t stand on the sidelines,” Van Andel told an audience during a May 2 CEO Leadership Series held by the National Chamber Foundation, the the U.S. Chamber's public policy think tank. “We must come together to unleash a spirit of entrepreneurship – where hard work is rewarded, innovation and creativity is encouraged, failure is not feared.”

Quoting his father, Amway co-founder Jay, Van Andel said, “Quitting the first time a problem presents itself is not a way to prevent failure; it’s a way to ensure it.”

It was risk-taking and creativity that grew Amway into one of the world’s largest direct selling businesses with operations in more than 80 countries and territories worldwide and with three million distributors and 20,000 employees. “None of this would be possible if not for the spirit of entrepreneurship,” Van Andel said. “If we took this spirit of entrepreneurship and applied it to business, we’d likely see an improvement in the overall economic climate.”

There are several steps that could be taken to create “an environment that encourages creativity, innovation, hard work and opportunities for people to succeed,” Van Andel said. “There needs to be a playing field that’s equal for everyone. That includes tax structure, regulatory structure, deficits and the ever expanding size of government.”

Businesses must be strong advocates for free enterprise, according to Van Andel. For example, when Amway began in China, the Chinese government reacted by outlawing all direct selling. “Instead of complaining or pulling out, we stuck with it. We worked with the Chinese government to find solutions that protected their citizens but continued to allow legitimate companies like Amway operate,” Van Andel says. "If we hadn’t been part of the solution, they would’ve shut us down and put an end to all direct selling in the country.” Seventeen years later, China is Amway’s biggest market.

Van Andel suggests that the same lessons apply in the U.S. “We need to engage government officials, encourage them to put in place sound economic policies, and ensure that the spirit of entrepreneurship prevails so that business can compete and people can have opportunity.” 

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