CEO and wealthy entrepreneur Dick DeVos is not afraid to step up to a challenge. He did in 1991 when an organization pushed to have a sports arena built in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The son of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, who had just taken over the CEO job at Amway, began to make phone calls and immediately lobby against it. He felt that the end result would be as devastating as it was in Detroit when the Lions and Pistons left.
His crusade led to the a group of business leaders forming Grand Action. The were behind the construction of Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place Convention Center and Michigan State’s medical school. The badly-needed upgrade to the city’s skyline cannot be ignored.
Both Dick and his wife, Betsy DeVos, recently appointed Sec. of Education, both come from backgrounds of massive wealth. For decades, the have used their fortunes to shape policy and to influence laws regarding education and labor.
While Betsy DeVos spent much of her time pushing for charter schools, Dick used his power to successfully convert Michigan — the birthplace of unions — to a right to work state where union membership was no longer required to work.
Dick DeVos’s influence travels well beyond the conservative political realm. The Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation has given nearly $140 million to a variety of initiatives such as human services, arts and culture, education and leadership programs.
The couple gave $12 million to the construction of the Spectrum Health Center, a children’s hospital named after DeVos’s mother Helen DeVos.
The new hospital gives working parents the opportunity to stay home and not have to take off from work or drive long distances to get medical care for their child.
DeVos has also opened a charter school for children interested in engineering, aeronautics and science. The West Michigan Aviation Academy is a tuition-free charter school that helps children with limited means get a good education.
While many of the DeVos’s initiatives have succeeded, not all gained steam.
In 2000, a constitutional amendment to create tax-funded charter school vouchers was voted down. DeVos also lost a 2006 campaign bid to unseat incumbent Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
While the private school and voucher initiatives had only limited success in Michigan. Dick DeVos worked to get the voucher program to other parts of the country. Through their vast efforts and hard work, 24 states now have vouchers for private schools.
“We are just glad to see that families are now having more choices in regards to education. All children are entitled to have a good education, regardless of their background,” said Dick DeVos. Learn more: http://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/topic/excellence_in_philanthropy/interview_with_betsy_devos