Doug DeVos is the co-Chairman and former CEO of Amway, the world’s largest direct selling company that provides health, beauty, and home care products. The company was actually founded over 60 years ago by Doug’s father and his father’s best friend. The company now has around 15,000 employees.
Doug has been inducted into the U.S. Direct Selling Association Hall of Fame and he received the Direct Selling Education Foundation’s Circle of Honor award. He currently chairs the Executive Committee for the National Constitution Center and he is a chairman of the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations.
The world has been going through some challenging times over the past year with the pandemic, political unrest, extreme weather, and social injustice. Businesses are having to learn how to adapt quickly.
The founders of Amway, Doug’s father, Rich, and his father’s best friend, Jay, were no strangers to tough times. Growing up Rich’s family went through the Great Depression, they didn’t even have a dime to their name. Rich’s father lost his job, they lost their house, they had to move in with Rich’s grandparents. But they didn’t give up.
Before Rich and Jay started Amway they were in World War II together and when they came back to the US they wanted to start a business. So they started a flight school, even though neither one of them knew how to fly. After that endeavor failed they bought a boat and decided to sail to South America. They made it to the coast of Cuba when their boat sank. But that didn’t stop them.
Doug shares, “It was these stories of determination and persistence that seemed to turn out well in the end. And that’s been my experience, not that life is without challenge, of course, there’s challenges. Of course, there’s tragedy. I know you’ve dealt with it, everybody deals with it. You lose a loved one unexpectedly. Something happens that you didn’t plan on, it’s crushing. But you just have to keep moving forward. And in my experience, I’ve seen people move forward from really, really tough circumstances, and find a better future. And it’s a lot better to keep that pursuit alive than to just stop and feel stuck.”
How Amway is navigating through challenging times
Just like every other business around the world, Amway is finding ways to continue providing great products and services in the midst of tough times. And Doug shares that the key to successfully getting through times like this is knowing who you are as a company. As a company you have to understand who you are and why you do what you do. That is the foundation that you can go back to in times like these.
Doug says, “When you talk about injustice in the world, we go back and say we have provided an opportunity for everybody, anybody from the very beginning. So we can express our values through how we operate. You know, because we’ve been doing it ever since we began. So we don’t have to make something up or try to catch up or adjust. But what we do have to do is look at ourselves honestly and say, can we do it better? Can we provide a better opportunity for more people, that becomes more real, and can we give them better products to sell and better support with technology and operations? Those are the things that we have to challenge ourselves and be honest to say, you know, in some aspects of the business, we could be better, we should be better, and we will be better.”
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Inside of Amway they have also had to reinvent themselves in three main ways to keep working effectively in this new world of work.
- Technology: They have heavily invested in new technologies to allow them to keep working while everyone is at home. They are coming up with creative ways to allow employees to communicate with each other, with leadership, and with customers while working remotely from home.
- Workplace practices: They have changed the way they receive feedback from employees. Instead of doing a survey every two years they are now getting feedback every 30 days. The leaders at Amway have put attendance and vacation policies on hold and they are focused on making sure all of their employees are set up well at home, that they are safe, that they are supported, and that they are rewarded.
- Communication and collaboration: In order to keep moving the company forward in these times the leadership at Amway knows they have to express the company vision to everyone. They have to be able to communicate and collaborate while working remotely. They have found that they are communicating more often now, with technology, than they did when everything was done in person.
Doug says Amway is continuing to be successful because, “We believe that people given an opportunity can have a business of their own and be successful, we feel the same way with our employees, they want to work, they want to be productive, they want to do well. And so when we allow that to happen, we can follow their lead.”
The center of Amway’s culture
Culture is a critical part of any company. When asked how Amway looks at culture Doug says they start with the heart. When it comes to fostering culture he believes that you have to have a heart for the business and for other people.
Doug gave an example of a time when Amway had put a program in place to foster communication within their manufacturing team. And after going through the program an employee described how much of an impact it had on him. The employee said he had a coworker who he couldn’t stand working with. The coworker was hard to get along with and they just didn’t work well together. But after going through this program and communicating with each other he learned that his coworker was going through some really tough things at home and he brought a lot of huge burdens in with him to work. And after understanding that they were able to communicate better and ended up enjoying working together.
Leading with your heart is a big part of the Amway culture. The other two major components are having a growth mindset and always being creative, and thinking of new ways to move forward.
The concept of leading with your heart is so needed inside of organizations right now. As we go through tough times leaders need to be able to be empathetic and understanding of what employees are going through. Even when tough decisions need to be made, like letting people go or huge layoffs, leaders can make those decisions while showing they care. For example, at one point when Amway had a downturn and had to lay off quite a few people they reached out to other local businesses to see if they were hiring. They worked very hard to match outgoing employees with local jobs based on their skills and abilities. So being empathetic doesn’t mean you will never have to make a hard decision, but it means you won’t make that decision easily and you will do whatever you possibly can to try to help your people.
Some people may feel that leading from the heart is too soft or doesn’t make sense for making money. But as Doug shares, “leading from the heart doesn’t mean you don’t hold people accountable. It doesn’t mean you don’t set targets and goals for yourself or for others. It just means that when you’re working with people, you work with them differently, that you’re not a boss with a subordinate, you’re a leader with a team. And so your role, you begin to think of your role differently of bringing people in.”
The biggest challenge for businesses right now
This year has been difficult for business leaders, and while we will get through this pandemic eventually there will always be challenges for leaders to overcome. One major issue Doug believes that businesses are facing now and that they will continue to face for a while is division. And the worst thing we can do, Doug says, is blame other people instead of working together to overcome challenges.
He says, “I’m blessed to have had a chance to continue to serve on the National Board of Trustees of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. And you find that through the US Constitution, you know, there’s a lot of things there. But what it is, is it’s an idea, and a document that helps bring people together, not that we have all the answers, we want to be a more perfect union. But it’s a place if we’ll work together, even if we disagree. And there’s been a lot of disagreement since the founding of our country. But people found a way to work together, even the formation of the Constitution took a whole bunch of people all summer long arguing until they found something. But they didn’t give up on the conversation. They didn’t give up on their future. And I think I think the biggest challenge for business is to continue to apply that faith, that belief in the future, and really challenge ourselves to work through whatever the challenges are, but to do it together, don’t blame other people, but figure out how to connect with other people. Say, let’s focus on the problem or the challenge and see what we can do to address it.”
There are always going to be changes in the marketplace and challenges that come our way, but the most important thing is to face these challenges together in collaboration. Overcoming things together will always be more effective than dividing and turning on each other.
Another challenge that business leaders of the future will have to deal with is the pace at which things are changing. Leaders in the past had the luxury of being able to be able to know the general direction that they needed to go, but the variations today are so dramatic and things are so uncertain it is hard to know which way to go.
So what can leaders do? Doug says, “You lead then from the inside out, you know, you start with your values and your belief systems, what do you believe in? And then you figure out how to apply it to those changing conditions. You know, we would have to do that on a regular basis to say what do we believe in? Because your belief system, whatever it is for you, it is going to drive a set of behaviors, in my opinion. So when you believe something, you’re going to go in a direction and then you’re going to make adjustments, you know, to the uncertainty Wow, I didn’t see that one coming. But here’s how we can turn this challenge into an opportunity. You know, and here’s how we can move, and minimize the bad or maximize the good in whatever change is happening.”
And ultimately you have to believe in your people and the teams around you to try to come together and find solutions.
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How to reinvent yourself
A lot of people these days are having to figure out how to reinvent themselves, whether it is because they are being laid off or because they foresee disruptions coming in their industry, etc…
Doug himself has recently gone through a reinvention after moving from CEO of Amway to co-Chairman. And he has some advice for others trying to make a transition. First of all, he says that just because your job or your position or something around you has changed, it doesn’t mean that your value as a person has changed. You still have the same talents, the same skills, and the same values as you have always had.
He also says it is important to look at the bigger picture, don’t pigeonhole yourself into a certain industry or job title. Consider alternatives that would be a fit for your skills. It might be something outside of your comfort zone or something you hadn’t considered before. Be open minded and curious.
And finally he says, don’t let yourself get stuck. This is something he learned from his father and his grandfather. No matter what setbacks you face, just keep moving forward.
He says, “You’ll probably have a few failures, a few things won’t work out, you won’t get the next opportunity to come your way that you were hoping for. But if you keep at it, and you keep that attitude strong, and you keep working at it, I think people put their money on people who are trying to find a way forward even in tough situations.”
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