2004: Jay Van Andel, Businessman, Philanthropist, Dies

December 7, 2021 all-day

Jay Van Andel and Richard DeVos, Sr. are the two co-founders of the Amway Corporation, a pioneer company in network sales of household and personal products. The network sales company distributes its products through dealers who in turn recruit other second level dealers, second level dealers recruit third level dealers, etc. with the final level dealers typically being largely consumers of the products that move through the dealer chain.

The two co-founders of Amway had known each other since high school days, and as adults tried a variety of different businesses including a flying school, a drive-in restaurant and a direct sales dealership selling vitamins and supplements. It was the latter business that piqued their interest and they started the Amway Corporation in 1959 to sell their own brand of household products. Their first product was a general household cleaning product, but they quickly expanded to other products including personal grooming products.

The Amway Corporation expanded quickly. It established its first dealerships in Canada in 1963, and Australia and Europe followed quickly thereafter. The Asia market opened up in 1974 with a dealership in Hong Kong. It took some time to move into China and Japan. But in 1972 a joint venture plant was built in China and Amway Japan went public in 1993. The world-wide annual sales of the Amway Corporation in 2006 amounted to about $ 6.4 billion. At the present time the Amway Corporation is a part of the Alticor Corporation, a company completely controlled by the Van Andel and DeVos families.

The two founders, Jay Van Andel and Richard DeVos, turned over the reins of the company to their respective sons in the 1990s. DeVos turned the presidency of the company over to his son Richard [Dick], in 1992. Van Andel followed suit by turning the chairmanship of the company over to his son Steve, in 1995. The two sons also shared the newly-created office of chief executive of the company. In recent years Dick DeVos has become interested in politics and in 2006 was seeking the 2006 Michigan State Governorship. Dick DeVos has been replaced in his position as president by his younger brother Douglas [Doug].

In his later years Jay Van Andel became interested in civic causes and became a generous philanthropist, especially giving generously to enrich the City of Grand Rapids, his home town. He donated substantial funds to build the Van Andel Museum Center which houses the Grand Rapids Public Museum. He also donated a substantial sum to the building of the Van Andel Arena, and to the establishment of the Van Andel Institute devoted to medical research and education, including its $60 million headquarters building. He pledged most of his personal estate to the Van Andel Medical Institute.

Prior to his philanthropic years he had been active in conservative political and civic causes. He served for a year as the chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He was also a strong supporter of the Republican Party and made major financial contributions to conservative political and civic causes.

Jay Van Andel was born on June 3, 1924 and passed away on December 4, 2004. He died from Parkinson’s disease and related complications. His wife Elisabeth [Betty] Van Andel predeceased him on January 18, 2004. She suffered from Alzheimer’s disease prior to her death. At the time of Jay Van Andel’s death, Forbes Magazine estimated his net worth to be $2.3 billion.


Jay van Andel  [1924-2004] biography, New Netherland Institute.

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