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Never quit – Even if your ship is sinking

A bell serves as a reminder to Steve Van Andel to 'just keep going'

The two founders of Amway, Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel, learned valuable life and business lessons during a sailboat trip in 1949

What business lessons can be learned from being on a sinking ship? According to Amway Chairman Steve Van Andel, there are many.

Steve recounts how long before his dad, Jay Van Andel and his best friend and business partner, Rich DeVos started the Amway business, they embarked on a sailing adventure despite neither knowing how to sail.

“My dad was more curious than anybody I know,” said Steve. “The idea of going to a different country and seeing how things were done was very interesting to him.”

The pair got the idea after reading Caribbean Cruise by yachtsman Richard Bertram. They went to Connecticut (on the east coast of the United States) and bought a 38-foot (11 meters) schooner named Elizabeth. The ship was sitting in dry dock for a while. Not knowing much about sailing, Jay and Rich didn’t realize this would cause the hull to leak.

“If you know anything about boats you know that shrinks the wood,” said Steve.

Nonetheless, the two headed toward the Caribbean with plans to stop in places like Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

In his book, An Enterprising Life, Jay writes of the adventure, “We made lots of mistakes, but we kept plugging away and every day we learned something new.”

In much the same way, Steve says the trip spoke to the strong partnership Jay and Rich always had.

“They both went into the sailing trip not knowing about sailing, but they both learned about it,” he said. “It was always an adventure – never an uncertainty – that they’d make it.”

Before long, the ship started to take on water faster than Jay and Rich could pump it out. Finally, somewhere in the waters off the coast of Cuba, they sent up a flare in distress and were rescued by a freighter bound for Puerto Rico.

By this time, the Elizabeth was so full of water, the only thing to do was to sink it so it wouldn’t be a floating hazard for other ships in the area. Before it sunk, Jay and Rich salvaged a few items, including the ship’s bell and flag.
Steve happened to find the items in an attic following Jay’s death.

“I had no idea my Dad ever had the bell and the flag until he passed away,” Steve said.

For him, these are symbols for why Jay and Rich were successful in business. In fact, the Elizabeth’s bell sits mounted in Steve’s office at World Headquarters in Ada.

“Every day I can go in and look at it, and when I get a little stuck on something, I just look at the bell and realize, just keep going,” Steve said. “For me it’s always been a great story of the two of them, their partnership, a story about who they were and the determination that they had to keep going.”

Jay and Rich didn’t let the sinking of the Elizabeth deter them from continuing their trip. In fact, they continued on to their original destination of South America, spending nearly six months touring and hatching plans for their next business venture together.

Adventure, partnership, never giving up – These are just a few of the traits shown during Jay and Rich’s sailing trip. These same values were applied in all of their business ventures, especially as they built Amway. It’s also how so many Amway Business Owners will continue to achieve their goals and succeed.

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