Though he’s best known for his failed campaign for Michigan governor, former Republican candidate Dick DeVos stayed out of the political fray during a campus speech just days before Election Day.
DeVos’s Friday talk, which was part of the College of Engineering’s Distinguished Innovative Speaker Series, the businessman focused on largely on his three interpretations of entrepreneurship, as based on his own business experiences and those of his father and son.
But DeVos did reflect on his failed 2006 campaign for a few minutes during the speech. The one point DeVos said he wished he had emphasized during his campaign is the importance of creating 1,000 companies with one employee over creating one company with 1,000 employees.
DeVos started his discussion by talking about his father, Rich DeVos, who he described was a true entrepreneur. According to DeVos, his father started Amway — an international corporation and the namesake of the Orlando Magic’s Amway Arena — in the family’s basement.
Calling himself an “intra-preneur,” DeVos stressed the importance of an entrepreneurial attitude within a large corporation, calling entrepreneurship a “way of seeing the world.”
DeVos worked for Amway for 25 years, including a 10-year term as the company’s president. He is famous for growing international sales and the corporate restructuring of Amway, which led to the creation of Alticor, the company from which he eventually retired as president in 2002. According to DeVos, the increase in international sales from 10 percent in the 1980s to 80 percent today was the result of a change in attitude and “intra-preneurship.”
DeVos described his son Rick DeVos, the founder of ArtPrize, as a social entrepreneur. ArtPrize, which began two years ago, is an art competition that runs from September through October in Grand Rapids, where venues host artists who each exhibit one piece. People register online and vote for their favorite artists. The top artist wins $250,000 and ArtPrize, according to its website, gives out $449,000 total in prize money.
In 2009, more than 200,000 visitors attended first annual ArtPrize, and in 2010, 1,713 artists exhibited their work and 465,538 votes were cast. DeVos stressed that entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be about creating things or improving them but can be about art and people, as is the case with ArtPrize.
Business sophomore Seth Samuels, a student in Engineering 407 for the third straight semester, called DeVos’s speech “uplifting” and “relevant.”
He said he liked how DeVos tied his personal background to entrepreneurial examples, and when DeVos explained that success in the business world comes from service — serving your customers and your community before yourself.
DeVos said that speaking to students is something he enjoys and “care(s) passionately about.”
Every Friday, Engineering 407 holds speeches from prominent businessmen that are open to the public. This week, David Walt — the director of Illumina, Inc. and Quanterix Corp. — is scheduled to speak.