Dick Devos: Businessman and Philanthropist

In the early 1990s, Grand Rapids was struggling to gain any prominence as a city and business center. It was the hometown of the Devos family, but it hadn’t been able to cultivate its own business district in downtown for many years. At this time, there were several business leaders who wanted to see instant growth.

 

At the time, Dick Devos was coming off a stint as the Vice President of International Sales at Amway. He had led the company to record-breaking sales during his time. Now he wanted to turn his attention to his hometown and help businesses grow. He first saw plans for a diverse sports arena and convention space in the north area of Grand Rapids. This was not close to downtown and caused concern for Devos. After all, he had seen what had happened to Detroit with the Pontiac Silverdome and teams leaving the city.

 

So, he looked at his circle of aviation colleagues and began working for a new idea. He was concerned that the new construction would be completely forgotten if not located in the right area of downtown. He said that he had a learned a great lesson from Detroit and didn’t want to repeat the scenario. The campaign led to the formation of Grand Action, which was a group of influential city leaders and businessmen. These were the main leads behind the changes made to Grand Rapids throughout the 1990s.

 

New buildings were constructed included the Van Andel Arena, medical school, the Devos Place Convention Center, and a new area called City Market. However, it was the Devos Performance Hall that drew a lot of attention. This construction had a profound impact on Grand Rapids. Finally, it felt like a bigger city and had the kinds of entertainment that it needed to become a place where people traveled to for business or pleasure.

 

Devos saw that he had more work to do. However, he also started as the CEO of Amway in 1993. It was during this time that he would work to create new opportunities in a variety of areas around Michigan with his wife as well. They would become a political power couple, working within Michigan to affect education reform.

 

However, Dick Devos also saw another opportunity for his hometown. He wanted to work with the airport to bring in new business travelers who would use the convention center as a place for international conferences, just like in other areas of the US including Orlando and Vegas. The plan depended on the airport being able to expand, however.

 

Devos made the first phone call to AirTran Airways in the 2000s. He told the CEO of his ideas to increase the traffic at the airport and that he wanted to open up new terminals to different destinations. Soon, AirTran Airways added destination flights for St. Louis, Vegas, Denver, and Orlando.

 

After a few years, AirTran Airways was bought out by Southwest, which led to some questions. Was Southwest going to close down the new terminals? The company had been down-sizing since it took over, but Devos called the CEO of Southwest to negotiate and keep all of the terminals open. He was able to convince the CEO that this was the best plan of action, and within a decade, the airport had done so well that it needed to expand once more.

 

For these reasons, Devos was appointed to the FAA’s Management Advisory Council in September 2017. His keen business acumen in the aviation world would prove invaluable to the FAA as they began to change budgets, policies, and regulations. The council meets once every quarter to discuss their ideas with the agency.

 

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