Why Amway boss heads Philly's Constitution Center

Doug DeVos, second-generation boss of consumer-marketing giant Amway and newly elected chairman of the Philadelphia-based National Constitution Center's executive board, tells how, as he sees it, the message of America's founding document isn't that different from what his company has found in its rapid expansion through Asia: "Economic freedom leads to personal freedom. If you just have economic freedom, you're missing the point," which is improving life "for people. Not money."

The rule of law - a written law accessible to all - creates "an environment where people can be rewarded for the work they do," DeVos says. "It maybe isn't perfect," though he declined to suggest what might be added or cut to improve it. "It can be made more perfect. I love that part of the premise. We believe in better."

What's DeVos doing at the Constitution Center? His father, father, billionaire Amway cofounder, Christian philanthropist, and Republican donor Richard DeVos, gave $10 million in 2003 when it opened, and told his extended family to show up when President Clinton came to the dedication. Doug showed up. He liked Philadelphia, and what he heard about the founding document: "Half the countries around the world are now like ours," with written rules. "The beauty of it: you can disagree, and still be a patriot. The Constitution gives you that right."

Amway's sales total about $9 billion a year (twice the size of Dick's Sporting Goods Inc., half the size of J.C. Penney Co.). The company's members - three million worldwide, DeVos says - market soaps and hundreds of other home products and recruit new salespeople. Detractors have called it a pyramid scheme; the company paid $55 million to settle a lawsuit by disgruntled distributors two years ago. DeVos says Amway continues expanding in the United States, and abroad, where 90 percent of its members now live, in China, Turkey, Indonesia, and other fast-growing markets.

More in my Sunday column in the Philadelphia Inquirer here.