By GREG GARLAND
Advocate staff writer
Bill Britt's system for building an Amway business has led to success for some Louisiana Amway distributors.
Former Louisiana Secretary of Commerce Ben James of Ruston said it saved him from the brink of bankruptcy and the threat of losing his home.
Jason Borne, 25, of Baton Rouge said Britt's system gave him self-confidence, and taught him how to build a business that generates an income few people his age enjoy.
Steve Ridley said the system was his ticket out of a rat race of 65- to 70-hour work weeks as a corporate lawyer in New Orleans.
Mark Dean of Prairieville said the system helped him bounce back from a failed business venture and is now the way he provides for his family.
State Rep. Louis "Woody" Jenkins, R-Baton Rouge, refused an interview request but has said in speeches to Amway distributors that the system is helping him attain "financial independence."
James said he turned to the Amway business in 1989, at a time when his financial situation was precarious.
A member of the T.L. James Construction Co. family, James said he had sold his interests in that company in 1983.
He said he invested the money in real estate and oil industry ventures, just as Louisiana's economy was about to enter a devastating downturn.
"I got caught in a downward spiral," James said. "I was fighting off bankruptcy. Amway saved me from that."
In a speech to an Amway rally in 1995, James talked about the pain he and his wife suffered when they put their house up for sale _ although they ultimately were able to save it.
"Margaret and I put every bit of thought into building that house in about four different stages and that was a very traumatic experience for her," James said.
"This business has meant so much to us _ the salvation of our family inheritance, the salvation of our family."
James, now a "Diamond" and regular speaker at Britt functions, said he didn't see the full potential of Amway at first.
He also said he had to overcome some family resistance to the idea when he first started building his Amway business.
"I do admit I'm obsessed," James told the 1995 Amway distributor rally. "I think to be Diamond you've got to have some obsession to get this done."
Jason Borne said his father was less than impressed when he came home from LSU one day in 1991 and told him he had found a way to become a millionaire.
"My dad said, `What is it?,' " Borne recounted. "I said, `Amway.' He gets pale and is about to throw up looking at me."
Seven years later, Borne's father, Dan Borne, executive director of the Louisiana Chemical Association, and Jason's mother are themselves Amway distributors.
Borne said the turning point came 10 months after he told his father of his plans. That is when he brought home his Amway performance bonus check for the month. It was for $4,000, he said.
After paying the share owed to his downline distributors, Borne said he still had $2,200 left.
The younger Borne, a "Pearl" distributor who expects to reach the "Emerald" level this year, said not everyone who gets into Amway is going to succeed.
"There are a lot of people who don't have what it takes to make it in this business," Borne said.
"It works for people who don't care what people think about their public image because Amway's so misunderstood _ people who have thick skins."
Borne defends the Britt system of motivational tapes and rallies, a system that has been a source of controversy within Amway in the past.
"We would be dead without tapes, because there would be no training system," Borne said. "It's like buying books for college. If we didn't have the tapes we would have to do a lot more work because there would be no examples of success."
Borne said he isn't concerned about how much Britt and other high-level distributors make off the motivational systems.
"I don't care how much money the guy makes," Borne said. "If I thought we were getting people in to make money on the tapes, like a pyramid deal, I'd quit. I know Bill's intentions are not that."
Ridley said he was making more than $300,000 as a partner in a major corporate law firm in New Orleans when he left the firm to concentrate on building his growing Amway business.
Ridley said his law practice provided a good income, but he had no time to enjoy life with his wife and children.
A "Diamond" in Amway and a rising star in the Britt system, Ridley said he has time to spend with his family now and the financial resources to enjoy it.
"I don't know any lawyer making as much money as I'm making (in Amway)," Ridley said.
Like Borne, Ridley said the Amway business is widely misunderstood.
"Everybody thinks they understand Amway, but nobody does," Ridley said.
"I'm in business with multi-millionaires and they're my mentors. This is the biggest network marketing business in the world."
He credits Britt with making it work.
"Amway is Amway because of people like Bill Britt," Ridley said.
Ridley said one of the most appealing things about Amway is that anyone can do it _ "from a Nobel laureate to an 8th grade dropout."
But Ridley said they have to be willing to try and to do the work. And he said he has little sympathy for those who give up on it
"Anyone who quit Amway doesn't know what they were in in the first place," Ridley said. "They're fools."
Mark Dean, 37, said he got into Amway in July 1991 as he was trying to work off debts from a failed sporting goods store venture he had been in with two friends.
Dean, the son of LSU Athletic Director Joe Dean, said he went to work as a sales representative for an athletic shoe company after the sporting goods store folded.
"What motivated me to get me into the Amway business was the amount of debt I was carrying," Dean said.
Dean said he knew the first night he saw the Amway plan that he wanted what the business had to offer _ more time with his wife and children, and money.
"We had some fast growth early on," Dean said. "Like any business, it has its ups and downs."
Dean said he reached the "Emerald" level as a distributor last August.
"The average Emerald makes between $60,000 and $100,000," Dean said, declining to reveal where he fits in on that scale.
But Dean said he doesn't plan to stop at Emerald.
"We're going to go Diamond, because I'm going to keep my hands on the plow," Dean said.
Dean said the financial rewards are only part of what makes Amway an attractive business.
"I've seen this business affect thousands of people in an incredibly positive way," he said.
"I've seen people quit drinking, get off drugs ... grow spiritually. It's an incredibly gratifying thing to me."
State Rep. Louis "Woody" Jenkins, R-Baton Rouge, would not agree to an interview, but he has given his views on Amway in speeches to distributors.
In a 1995 speech, Jenkins said Ridley showed him and his wife, Diane, the Britt system and the Amway business plan in 1990.
At the time, he said, he was busy in the state Legislature and working with missions in Central America, while trying to raise a family.
Jenkins said he was "burdened with loads of debt," but didn't have time to take on something new at the time.
Ridley explained how the Jenkinses would only have to work once to build an Amway business and could then enjoy the benefits year after year, for the rest of their lives, Jenkins said.
In his 1995 speech, Jenkins related the conversation he had with Ridley in 1990:
"He said to me, `Woody,' he says, `You've got so much debt at the rate you're going now you'll never pay it off. There are not enough hours in the day, working a hundred hours a week, to pay off the debt.' "
Jenkins said Ridley told him that by following Britt's system, he could develop a "strong, six-figure income" and be "on the road to financial independence" within a few years, just by working 10 to 12 hours a week.
"Five years later, I can stand here and tell you that everything he promised us has come true," Jenkins told the distributor group.
"We reached the goal of Emerald direct distributor last year and we're well on the way to Diamond."
Jenkins said he is sometimes asked what his choice would be if he had to give up either a television station he owns in Baton Rouge or his Amway business.
"I can tell you in a minute, the television business, because the Amway business, through the Britt system, has far greater opportunity not just for me but every single person in America," Jenkins said.
On a 1996 Federal Election Commission report, Jenkins listed his Amway-related income then as $478,413.
Jenkins also has reaped political benefits from his Amway business, in addition to the financial benefits.
Many Amway distributors are Christian conservatives who also comprise a strong political base for Jenkins.
During his unsuccessful challenge last year of the 1996 U.S. Senate race, Jenkins enlisted help from Amway distributors around the country.
Jenkins narrowly lost the race to Democrat Mary Landrieu, but claimed the election was tainted by fraud, prompting a U.S. Senate Committee to investigate.
At key junctures, Jenkins appealed to Amway distributors to contact Senate committee members to urge them to keep probing alleged election fraud in the race.
His appeals went out over Amvox, a messaging system used by Amway distributors across the country.
The distributors responded with hundreds of phone calls and faxes. The election probe continued for months, but the election ultimately was not overturned.