I've had some of the greatest business mentors in the world, even before I could afford to hire any. That's because when I started my first career as a TV news reporter, I would read books, watch Youtube videos, and get my hands on any self-development material I could.
I read an old, tattered copy when I graduated from college without realizing the impact it would have on my mindset and future as an entrepreneur. The book--and Devos's life story--fostered three beliefs I hold dear to this day. I think all business owners should adopt them:
1. Believe in persistence.
Most entrepreneurs don't hit a home run with their first business. DeVos didn't launch Amway with Jay Van Andel until he was in his mid-30s. The company went on to become the largest direct-sales company in the world.
DeVos attributed his success to persistence--not brilliant planning, marketing, or luck. He wrote about weeks when he planned and poured over big sales events--only to have two people show up.
Recently, I celebrated landing a dream client that I pursued for nearly a year. People are often surprised at the size of businesses my small company works with, and they want to know the secret of how I do it.
My secret? Persistence. Most of my big wins don't happen by chance. They happen through a bold vision and the relentless pursuit of that vision.
"I believe that one of the most powerful forces in the world is the will of the man who believes in himself, who dares to aim high, to go confidently after the things that he wants from life," DeVos wrote.
2. Believe in free enterprise.
I remember reading a story about an interaction between DeVos and a college student at one of his talks. It completely shifted my mindset, and has greatly contributed to my ability to generate profit for myself and others.
To summarize, a student raised his hand to ask a question. He implied that if DeVos really cared about the poor, he would give up the Cadillac he was driving to "drive an old car." The student's theory--a common one--was if the rich had less, the poor would have more.
DeVos responded with an example of a farmer to illustrate the idea that if the wealthy have less, everyone has less. If the farmer earns less for his produce, he told the student, the produce doesn't become cheaper. It gets more expensive.
Whenever doubts creep into my head about capitalism and profit, I focus my gratitude on living in a country where people are rewarded for working harder and more efficiently. In a free-enterprise economy, everyone can win.
3. Believe in human dignity.
Even with all of his success, one of DeVos' strongest beliefs was in every single person's worth and dignity. He particularly disapproved of anyone being referred to as "just a garbage man" or "just anything" less important or dignified than anyone else.
"He is the backbone of this country; he is the guy who gets the job done; he is the unsung hero of our whole society," DeVos wrote, referring to laborers and nonprofessional workers.
DeVos told a story about a garbage truck driver who he discovered had never been complimented on his work. DeVos was the first to thank him for his service in the driver's entire 12-year career.
He also pointed out the disparity between the significant amount of daily praise he received as a leader of an international corporation, compared to the little that other workers received. His overall attitude about people was simply: "People are good and worthy of trust and respect."
I have deep respect for every person that contributes to the success of my business. I'm especially grateful for the contractors who clean our office, organize bookkeeping, and deliver our packages.
Without them, the business wouldn't function smoothly, and we wouldn't be able to make our greatest contribution. I make an effort to thank all our vendors and contractors, in person or with a simple note.
DeVos died in September 2018 at the age of 92. An old copy of Believe! sits on the bookshelf in my Grand Rapids office.