How does one possibly sum up a life as full and as fruitful as businessman and philanthropist Richard DeVos, the Amway co-founder and friend and supporter of many evangelical Christian efforts and organizations, including Focus on the Family, who died yesterday at the age of 92?
“The Lord was good to me and I gotta go out and try and tell how good God is,” Mr. DeVos recently reflected. “I’d like to be remembered by enjoying the time we were given here by loving what the good Lord gave us, and we did the best we could with it.”
I was honored to spend a very small fraction of Richard DeVos’ time with him, shortly after I had become president of the ministry. Knowing that he was a solid mentor to younger leaders like myself, I flew out to his office in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I spent an entire day at his side.
Over the course of just one day, Mr. DeVos impressed upon me two timeless truths:
- Identify your True North:
- Seek to Serve:
Stepping into his office, I was immediately struck by his calm demeanor. He was kind and courteous, clearly unaffected by his success. Here was a colossus of capitalism, worth multiple billions of dollars, yet his humility and strong sense of direction were clearly apparent in both his speech and interactions with me and others.
I asked him about its source, which was his strong and unfailing faith in Jesus, of course. He spoke eloquently and forcefully about how his faith was the compass by which he steered, his true north, that allowed him to weather the volatility of life and business. He spoke about his many “ups and downs” and how through them all, his faith enabled him to carry on and ride them out.
Looking back, the faith of Richard DeVos reminds me of what my friend Dr. Tim Keller has often preached about – how it is the wise Christian whose faith provides the ballast through the storms of life, never getting too high or too low, a steely steadiness through the wild waves of living.
Richard DeVos was a devoted believer in Jesus Christ, but he was also a strong believer in America. He said the best thing you can do if you want to help people is to start a business – because a well-run enterprise meets the needs of both its customers and employees.
The seed of Mr. DeVos’ interest in business was first sowed by his father, Simon. His dad was an electrician who was unceremoniously and coldly fired after years on the job. He wound up dying of a heart attack at just 59 years of age.
“Own your own business son,” his father told him. “Own it. Work hard at it. Set high goals for yourself and never give up, no matter what.”
His biographer, Pat Williams, who has been a guest on Focus on the Family several times, said one of the primary reasons that DeVos purchased the NBA’s Orlando Magic in 1991 was for the national platform it provided him to share “his message of success through faith, optimism, perseverance and hard work.” Here again, the Michigan native was thinking of people before profits.
During my day with Mr. DeVos, I was also struck by the tenacity of his spirit. It was clear to me his goal wasn’t simply to stockpile money, but to do meaningful work that helped people and contributed to the improvement of society. This is why the DeVos family has been so generous with so many organizations and causes. It’s not about them – it’s about serving the needs of others. As somebody once said, if you’re willing to first help others get what they want, they’ll inevitably help you reach your goals and dreams.
This selfless servant-style leadership approach to life catapulted Richard DeVos to successes beyond his wildest imagination. In the end, though, his legacy will be remembered not in fame or fortune but in the changed lives of people he helped who met the man who changed him – his personal Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
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