Dick DeVos helped start The Windquest Group back in 1989 and the company owns several energy and high-tech companies across Michigan, but it’s also a key funder of the West Michigan Aviation Academy and ArtPrize, an art competition hosted in Grand Rapids. DeVos holds a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate’s degree from Northwood University where he also sits on several boards, and he also strongly believes in giving back to the city that’s allowed his business to succeed. Dick and his wife Betsy have always opened their checkbooks to organizations that needed support to stay active, but they’ve never been willing to disclose the numbers behind their generosity. During the hearings of Betsy’s confirmation for Secretary of Education, they revealed their lifetime giving was about $139 million.
Dick was a vice president and later CEO of a direct selling company, Amway Corporation prior to and after his founding of The Windquest Group. Dick’s father Richard DeVos Sr. had started Amway because he saw the means to sell household and health products while also giving others the chance to go into business reselling the products. Dick served at Amway from 1974 to 1989 and then became CEO from 1993 to 2002. In the years in between his family bought the NBA’s Orlando Magic where Dick also served on the executive board for three years.
Dick and Betsy’s lifetime giving started after they started the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation in 1992 and their first target was education. They made out donations to local private schools and then established scholarships funneled through organizations such as Kids First America and Education Freedom Fund. They also became Charter School supporters and hired staff to run the West Michigan Aviation Academy, a charter school they founded themselves located at the local airport. They’ve also supported higher learning institutions and David Rubenstein’s remodeling project for the Kennedy Center’s Art Institute in Washington received a $22 million gift from Dick and Betsy and was promptly renamed the DeVos Institute of Arts Management.
Dick DeVos is also a former political candidate who decided it was time to enact meaningful reform not just for Michigan’s education, but for the economy and to change job regulations he felt were affecting commerce in the state. He originally had a lead in the polls over current governor Jennifer Granholm, but he could not bring home a stellar performance in the debates and lost the 2006 election by 14 points. He has continued to give financial support to free market organizations across the state and nationally including the Heritage Foundation and Constitution Society and has been at the center of some conservative legislation that’s been passed, including a right-to-work law in 2012 similar to one that passed in Wisconsin.