Managing an $8.8 billion global enterprise while being the face of a $183 billion international market is a lot of responsibility. But Amway, the world’s largest direct selling company, with headquarters in Ada, Michigan, seems comfortable with—and energized by—the challenge.
Headquarters: Ada, Michigan
Top Executives: Co-CEOs Steve Van Andel and Doug DeVos
2016 Revenue: $8.80 billion
Global 100 Ranking: 1
Products: Personal care, wellness, cosmetics, food and beverage, home care and kitchenware.
At this point in its evolution, Amway strives to be a very visible example of what Vice President of Communications Todd Woodward believes is direct selling’s underlying purpose: to bring value and empowerment to people’s lives. “When you’re the leader in the direct selling industry,” Woodward says, “it’s really important to position yourself and the industry at the same time.”
As a result of Amway executives’ belief in this purpose, company leaders pursue initiatives beyond the day-to-day operations of their direct selling business—initiatives that have far-reaching touch points and work to serve the channel as a whole. A few of these programs include a recurring in-depth report on entrepreneurship, extensive health-related research and a global effort to eliminate malnutrition. According to Woodward and other company executives, this work reflects the belief that success comes from more than just selling products and providing business opportunities.
People start their own businesses for a variety reasons. Some do it to have more control over their schedules. Others may want more control over their income. People also don’t start businesses for a variety of reasons—because they fear failure or they don’t have family support. In certain countries, potential entrepreneurs are ready to take the risk but the bureaucracy makes it too complicated.
“When you’re the leader in the direct selling industry, it’s really important to position yourself and the industry at the same time.” — Todd Woodward, Vice President of Communications, Amway
Amway has been gathering this kind of intelligence on attitudes about, and perceptions of, entrepreneurship around the world since 2011. It publishes its findings in the Amway Global Entrepreneurship Report (AGER).
This exhaustive study helps Amway in two ways: It provides insight into what motivates or intimidates entrepreneurs, allowing the company to better understand how to break down barriers to entrepreneurship. And it gives executives fuel for conversations about the business climate in its global markets. Amway also makes the reports—seven of them since 2013—available as a free download at www.amwayglobal.com/newsroom/#media-downloads, ensuring that the entire direct selling channel has access to the beneficial research.
The next AGER will be released in March, Woodward says. But the last report, from 2016, revealed that an overwhelming majority—nearly 80 percent—of the 50,861 men and women aged 14-99 surveyed across 45 countries have a positive attitude about entrepreneurship. Researchers found that millennials, in particular, believe that working in the gig economy is a viable way to make more income. As it deepens its understanding of how entrepreneurship begins (or doesn’t), Amway—and other companies who utilize the report—can leverage AGER findings to help potential entrepreneurs widen their perceptions of what it means to be a business owner. It doesn’t have to be about starting from scratch, Woodward says. “We believe that entrepreneurship is a group sport and people are more successful when surrounded with support. Whether they stay with Amway or not, it doesn’t matter. If they have a good experience with us and move on, that’s just fine.”
The AGER also “opens up conversations for us in our 100 markets about how to help shape the regulatory environment to be more favorable for people who want to start businesses,” Woodward says. For example, Amway executives recently began working with the Indian government as they consider regulations that would help people who want to earn extra income through direct selling.
“The most important thing about AGER,” Woodward says, “is that it highlights the widespread desire that people have for business ownership. Helping people accomplish that goal—in a low-cost, low-risk way—is the essence of who we are and what we do, not just as a company but as an industry.”
Clearing barriers to entrepreneurship, whether psychological or regulatory, is the first step toward helping people build their own businesses. But Amway’s support of the journeys of independent business owners (IBOs) doesn’t stop there. It has an extensive curriculum for IBOs—its non-employee salesforce—at all stages of business ownership around the world, including a recently updated program in North America.
Amway Education has been available for IBOs since the company began. But three years ago, under the leadership of Suzie Fiore, Amway North America’s director of training and education, the company reinvented the course content and delivery to make it more relevant to Amway’s IBOs.
“The education we had was dated in our minds and in our IBOs’ minds,” Fiore says. “It was very long; it was based on PowerPoints; and it wasn’t concise or easy because it was not friendly on mobile devices or tablets.”
The courses are now accessible from any device, and the Amway Education team worked with IBOs to rewrite and segment the material into more concise, targeted modules. New business owners can select content that is focused on basic business operations or ways of learning more about Amway. Veteran IBOs can go right for more in-depth courses on leadership or other topics that will help them develop in the mature stages of their businesses.
In summer 2017, the company temporarily made Amway Education courses available to the general public, as a way to expand the public’s understanding of what Amway offers. “We wanted to show those who have the entrepreneurial spirit that Amway provides help all along the way; that you’re in business for yourself but not by yourself,” Fiore says, adding that the company does not have plans to make the courses available to the public again.
The experiment generated a lot of interest, says Beth Dornan, head of public relations and social media for Amway North America. During the open-course period, 26,600 people took Amway’s “What’s Your Learning Personality” assessment. It’s a quick quiz that categories people as a Juggler, a Seeker, a Cornerstone or an All-Star and recommends Amway courses that would best suit them.
“[With Amway Education courses], we wanted to show those who have the entrepreneurial spirit that Amway provides help all along the way; that you’re in business for yourself but not by yourself.” — Suzie Fiore, Director of Training and Education, Amway North America
Amway draws from outside resources, too, as it creates its learning paths. Through a partnership with the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), for example, it taps into what executives believe is a leadership and teamwork philosophy that is highly compatible with Amway’s approach. In a recently launched video series called “Amway Overtime,” some of the most recognizable names in college football coaching share their approaches to developing better players on the field. “From identity and direction to guiding your team through a crisis, business leaders can soak up advice and wisdom that reinforce their own endeavors,” the company says on its website.
Feedback from Amway Education users indicates that the new videos are an engaging experience and complement how they reach their downlines, Fiore says.
Amway Education exists to help IBOs become successful, she says. “We listened to what the IBOs said they need and want, and we’re helping supply them with tools to help with professional and personal growth.”
The company is being recognized for its training as well. In 2017, Amway Education won a Silver award in the Brandon Hall Group Excellence in Sales and Marketing Awards, for “Best Unique or Innovative Sales Training Program.”
Research for Life
While Amway Education and the AGER teams are digging into what will help IBOs develop personally and professionally, Amway researchers are digging into the science of healthy living.
In the past five years, Amway has invested $335 million in research and development and manufacturing facilities to support the work of nearly 1,000 scientists in 75 labs around the world. The company’s R&D work focuses primarily on plant-based food products. Amway global researcher Keith Randolph, who has a Ph.D. in pathology, published an article in the August edition of the United Nation’s Standing Committee on Nutrition newsletter, which presents important developments in the field of international nutrition. The Amway R&D team’s research into the effects of plant-based dietary patterns on healthy longevity not only informs the products Amway creates for its customers, but also raises concerns for those who have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Recently, the company opened the Amway Botanical Research Center in Wuxi, China, which includes 118 acres of farmland. The work in Wuxi is focused almost exclusively on studying plants used in traditional Chinese medicine. Woodward says this work is not only in line with Amway’s commitment to understanding healthy living but is also good for its partnership with the Chinese government. “Through this research they see us as a very positive force,” he says.
Skin health research is another recent initiative at Amway. In collaboration with Microbiome Insights Inc., Amway presented results from two independent epidemiology studies at a recent conference about anti-aging science. Executives at both companies say they hope the research will help create even more effective skincare products. “Together, we are leveraging our deep experience in the microbiome to deliver solutions in skin and cosmetic science,” says Dr. Greg Hillebrand, senior principal scientist at Amway. “While much more work needs to be done, our hope is not only to contribute to the scientific community’s general understanding of the microbiome, but also to apply our findings to the development of future consumer products that benefit human health and wellness.”
Amway is also focused on keeping its manufacturing facilities healthy. Through a major recycling operation at its global headquarters, the company recycles more than 90 percent of the 20 million pounds of waste it generates at its packaging plant. “The amount of recycling at global headquarters is enormous,” says Environmental, Health and Safety Lead Eric Van Dellen. “We’re also focused on making it easier for our office staff to… tackle their heavy workloads without throwing items in the trash.”
As Voltaire once said, with great power comes great responsibility. From its highly visible position in the channel and in the global marketplace in general, Amway takes the opportunity to make a positive difference in, literally, almost every corner of the world. These efforts have resulted in $280 million and 4.1 million hours’ worth of contributions to community causes that have helped 13.2 million people around the world since 2003, company executives say.
Starting in its own backyard, Amway has partnered with hundreds of local nonprofits—awarding grant funding to some—that focus on improving nutrition, raising academic achievement and ending homelessness, hunger and unemployment.
Amway’s efforts to make a positive difference in others’ lives has resulted in $280 million and 4.1 million hours’ worth of contributions to community causes that have helped 13.2 million people around the world since 2003.
Zoom out to a national scale to see Amway’s work as a partner of the U.S. Dream Academy and Easter Seals. For the past eight years the company has invested time and resources to help the children in the U.S. Dream Academy, who have parents in prison, break the incarceration cycle and develop the skills and vision they need to make positive choices in their lives. For the past 34 years, Amway employees and IBOs have raised more than $32 million for Easter Seals, which serves more than 1.4 million children and adults with disabilities. Amway has partnered with Easter Seals for longer than it has worked with any other philanthropic partner.
Widen the lens further to see the results of the Nutrilite Power of 5 campaign, a major international effort to bring vital micronutrients to malnourished children around the world and help hundreds of thousands of children survive, thrive and grow to, and beyond, their fifth birthday, Dornan says.
More than 500,000 Amway IBOs have raised awareness and money to support the Power of 5 campaign, which distributes Nutrilite Little Bits to children in 15 countries—from China to South Africa to countries throughout the Americas—who are either undernourished or obese. Little Bits is a powder that can be mixed with food, adding 15 essential vitamins and minerals that make food more nutritious. The company says it intends to support at least 500,000 children with Nutrilite Little Bits by the end of 2019. This project is part of Amway’s commitment to the United Nations’ Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) initiative and the SUN Business Network, which brings members of the private sector together to explore their role in solutions to malnutrition. Amway joined the network in 2014 and is one of 186 businesses committed to improving global nutrition. These companies represent a range of industries and include such global giants as General Mills, BASF, GlaxoSmithKline and KPMG.
Amway’s research, education and corporate responsibility initiatives are as broad and diverse as the company’s product lines, which range from water purifiers to skincare products and energy drinks. And these programs seem to occupy a significant place in the company’s priorities. As he makes his long commute to the office, Woodward talks easily and with great enthusiasm about what he believes is Amway’s true mission: “When we think about our ‘why,’ we think about helping people live better lives.”