Sure, DeVos is honorable, but is he tough enough to head Magic?

September 22, 1991|By Larry Guest | Larry Guest,Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Talk to a half-dozen civic and business leaders in Grand Rapids, Mich., and the book on the DeVos family member now most directly at the wheel of the Orlando Magic is this: admirable, amicable, compassionate, honorable, community-conscious, intelligent, but -- is he tough enough?

Dick DeVos, eldest son of the charismatic Amway billionaire who formally announced Thursday he and his family purchased the Magic, is a business and political specialist experienced far beyond his 35 years on this globe. For six years, he successfully commanded Amway's international division with the heavy responsibility for operations in 18 countries.

Two years ago he snipped the Amway umbilical to build his own mini-conglomerate, The Windquest Group, which now includes four companies and 150 employees who print grocery labels, produce wooden fences, distribute medical products and manage investments. He recently attracted more than a million votes, more than any other Republican on a statewide basis, to win a seat on Michigan's Board of Education. He fans speculation that he will run for the U.S. Senate in 1994.

But is he strong enough, this silver-spoon kid now probing the real world, to make the tough decisions necessary as the chief operating officer overseeing the family's latest venture, an NBA franchise?

"I learn about myself day by day," Dick DeVos reflected Thursday afternoon, miles and hours removed from the glitter of the day's big news conference. "In business decisions, I try to demonstrate fairness. But intellectual toughness is also important to me. In characterizing me, I would hope to be seen as tough, but also fair."

"At this point, if I had to make a difficult decision, I would say yes, I could," he announced with animated authority. "I don't shy away from making those calls."

His first opportunity will be the negotiation of a new contract for Magic general manager Pat Williams, who reportedly covets a five-year, $2.5 million pact, a handsome 50-percent increase over his contract, which expired June 30. It will not come as cheery news to Williams that Dick DeVos doesn't embrace long-term contracts. His top aides with Amway International and Windquest Group have enjoyed one-year contracts at the most.

"Where I come from, we always tended to prefer operating on a handshake and go forward from there," said DeVos, who plans to spend about one week a month in Orlando overseeing the staff. "But I realize this is a different business. I will negotiate [Williams' contract], and if we come to a conclusion, the other members of the family will have to endorse it before we lock it in.

"We'd like to keep Pat on. Our lack of knowledge in the sports business says to us that we need to benefit from the internal experience that exists right now. As we grow more knowledgeable, we can judge whether or not things are being done as we want them done. I made it clear to Pat we're going to have a different approach and a different style. I'm not a control-oriented individual, but I expect results and I expect hTC meticulous, detailed management."

Asked his impressions of Williams from afar, DeVos said: "It's been so afar, I'd hesitate to comment right now. I'd like to establish a working relationship with Pat and experience firsthand and not speculate about that. Pat is an excellent promoter. But the challenge for Pat is whether he can work with a new team."

Asked to peer into his crystal ball five years down the Magic road, he could see these developments:

A DeVos family member as a full-time resident of Orlando (though not Dick, who apparently hopes to be splitting his time then between D.C. and Michigan). An active family role in Orlando arts, particularly in the symphony, a favorite of his mother, Helen DeVos. A supercharged Magic Foundation. ("Very important to us.") Some sort of cultural or business exchanges between Orlando and Grand Rapids.

And, finally, a Magic ownership group still consisting only of the five DeVos family members announced Thursday. "I can tell you there is no plan to bring anyone else in."

Best to you, Dick DeVos, as you grab the handlebars of Orlando's favorite toy.

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