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Published in Manufacturing

Q&A: Amway CEO discusses path to U.S. citizenship, company growth plans

BY Tuesday, November 29, 2022 03:33pm

Milind Pant recently completed the next “logical step” in his experience as a global business executive when he, his wife and two sons were approved for U.S. citizenship. For the Amway Corp. CEO who grew up in the Himalayan foothills of India, that journey started about seven years while he was a Yum! Brands executive in Dallas. Pant then joined the Ada-based direct-selling giant nearly four years ago, arriving at the family-owned Amway at the tail end of a yearslong sales slump. After a pandemic-related downturn in 2020 and roughly 900 layoffs in early 2021, Amway sales rebounded last year on the strengths of its vitamin and supplement brand Nutrilite. The company currently is investing heavily in automated manufacturing, innovation and technology, and pivoting to a more online presence, Pant said in a recent interview with MiBiz.

How did the naturalization process start and what was it like?

Amway CEO Milind Pant. COURTESY PHOTO

The journey started seven years back in 2015 when we moved to Dallas as a family. When we moved to the U.S., we wanted to buy a house. We went to the bank and asked about a mortgage, and they asked me about our credit score. And we said, ‘What is credit score?’ We had no idea. We started out from that very basic first step. But we love everything about the idea of America. We’ve lived in five countries across three continents, but we believe the idea of America is very powerful. 

Then I got a chance to move from Dallas to Grand Rapids four years back, I got lucky with Amway. Once I came here and started working with Amway, realizing how the idea of Amway and the idea of America are so similar, we were set then on becoming U.S. citizens. The process was smooth, and we are very happy and very proud to be American citizens. All four of us, my two sons and (wife) Amrita.

What does this mean for you as a family and as a business executive?

It means that America and West Michigan is our home. It doesn’t take away anything — I believe we will combine the best of the country where I was born (India) and the country that has given me so much opportunity, that is America. I couldn’t be more proud as the CEO of Amway to be now an Indian American. 

How is the company positioned heading into 2023 after a few years of the pandemic?

The economic context that we’re living through and the uncertainty that we have on the economic outlook is a headwind, and so are some of the geopolitical aspects. However, acknowledging those three things — the pandemic, the geopolitical and economic uncertainty — the Amway business is perhaps in one of the strongest positions it has been in in many years. The reason for that goes back to the pandemic. We have 6,000 acres of organic farms. The portfolio is about optimal health. What did the pandemic remind everyone? That health, wellness, and immunity are really important. And a lot of that means the health of others. It’s difficult to do it alone. It’s difficult to have healthy lifestyles and habits alone. Our business has pivoted to a place where our Amway business owners are now building health and wellness communities, and we’ve seen success at scale in many markets, especially China, where the pandemic has been the toughest thus far. 

What’s the status of Amway’s operations in Russia?

We are in the process of withdrawing and stopping (operations) in Russia. It is the combination of factors that make it impossible for us to continue to operate as an American company in Russia. It was a very difficult decision for us and our entrepreneurs there, but a decision that we made in the summer of this year, which is under execution as we speak.

You’re the first non-family leader at Amway. In your time there, what have been some of the challenges to that?

In my experience in the last four years, it’s been a privilege to be part of the family-owned, privately held company. Why do I say that? The families and the ownership is long term. When (publicly) listed companies talk about short, medium, long term, they talk about short term as a quarter, medium term as maybe two years, long term as maybe three to five years. In our case, we have an A70 vision and plan, which is Amway’s 70th birthday, which is in 2029. That is a medium-term plan. The long-term plan for the (DeVos and Van Andel) families is multi-generational. 

For me, the important thing is to recognize the values and purpose of why Rich (DeVos) and Jay (Van Andel) founded the company: Helping people live better, healthier lives. I stay connected with all family members, but especially Steve (Van Andel) and Doug (DeVos), who are my gurus and co-chairs on the board. Importantly for me, this is a very relationship-oriented organization. Building those relationships with our entrepreneurs, family members and employees is important. That may not be the case in my previous roles. That has been a good learning experience for me, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

Amway last year announced significant job cuts, including at its Ada headquarters. What was the fallout of that locally, and what’s the path ahead? 

The context of that question is that all organizations change. The follow-up question is: What are the organizational changes to support it? What we did last year were the organizational changes that we were making to be able to support the journey of growth and help our entrepreneurs succeed. There are changes that are made, but you’re also investing at the same time. We’ve made investments in a new manufacturing plant. It’s one of the most automated plants handling massive volumes of our energy drinks. We are now in the process of investing in nutrition facilities at Spaulding (a manufacturing plant in Ada). We’re also investing in technology. One of the things we want to do is continue to recruit technology, data science, product engineering talent in West Michigan. We will continue to go through change, and what we did last year was a process to do that.

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