Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Death of an Amway God

Bill Britt - June 1980
Bill Britt is dead.

So what?  Who was he?

Bill Britt was the leader of a vast distributor empire that sold Amway products.  Some people called him a businessman.  Some people called him a role model.  Some people called him a leader.  But to people in his organization, he was much more than that.  He was a god.

I should know.  I was a member of his organization.  His word was law.  He wasn't just an authority on the Amway business.  He was an authority on all things:  economics, politics, relationships and religion.  More than that, he was also a liar, a charlatan and a cult leader.

I don't mean to say that Amway itself, or Amway Global, or Quixtar, or whatever it is calling itself nowadays, is a cult.  It is just a company that produces and distributes a wide variety of products.  If you become a distributor and practice the business as taught in the various manuals that come with your official starting kit, you would probably make a little money.  However, you would not achieve the riches that Bill Britt and his ilk promised you that way.  They preached a different gospel within Amway, and Amway, to its shame, never reigned them in.   I understand why they didn’t. At the time, my leaders (idols), Bill Britt and Dexter Yager, boasted that a third of Amway’s sales came through their organizations. If Amway got tough with them, they would simply start selling another product line. Amway would be crippled. As a result, Amway turned a blind eye to their excesses.

Before I go any further, let me give you my definition of a cult, which I culled from a number of books and resources. Here are the characteristics: A). A group sharing an all-encompassing “truth” outside of, and hostile to, mainstream thought. B). Strong, charismatic, unquestionable leadership. C). Isolation from outsiders. D). Use of mind control tactics to manipulate the followers. I believe Britt Worldwide met all of those characteristics.

The cultic mind control tactics began immediately. First was the love bombardment. When you joined, everybody wanted to shake your hand or hug you. They wanted to know your story. Your dreams. They were always willing to give you a ride to a function or help you out any way they could. They were your friends. They needed you, and, soon enough, you needed them, too. Why? Because as soon as your old friends found out you were in Amway, they’d run in the opposite direction!

“Murphy,” one of my friends warned me early on. “If the first word out of your mouth isn’t poker when you call, I’m hanging up on you!”

That reaction was not uncommon.

Then the isolation began. Your friends and family members who didn’t want to get in the business were declared negative or losers.   “Why on Earth would you want to hang with negative people who were trying to steal your dream?” our leaders would ask.

They’d say where you would be in five years depended on whom you associated yourself with now. If you wanted to be a successful Amway distributor, you needed to hang around with successful Amway distributors. They’re the ones who wanted to help you achieve your dreams. Keep away from the others. Even your family. They’d come around later, begging to get into the business, when you were rich.

Our leaders also used sleep deprivation. We were told the best information came out at informal sessions around four in the morning. Your goal at the massive weekend functions was to get yourself invited back to the hotel room of an Amway guru and discuss the business until dawn. My friends and I would find ourselves sitting cross-legged on the floor of cramped hotel room with twenty other people listening to a high-ranking distributor until we barely had enough time to get a shower and breakfast before the morning function. We prided ourselves on how little sleep we got.

They even tried to control the information we received. Amway seemed to be in the news quite a bit at the time. The big shots usually got a heads-up if there was going to be a negative story in a major newspaper, magazine or television program. We would be warned not to watch or read it. The stories were all lies.

When it came to isolating yourself, I got off pretty easy.  My friends Jim and Mike often found themselves in fierce arguments with their family and friends. Relationships were definitely damaged. I was much more low key. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice friends for the business.

One of the biggest accusations against Amway was that it was a pyramid scheme.   The online Free Dictionary define a pyramid scheme as "a fraudulent moneymaking scheme in which people are recruited to make payments to others above them in a hierarchy while expecting to receive payments from people recruited below them.  Eventually the number of new recruits fails to sustain the payment structure and the scheme collapses with most people losing the money they paid in."  I always rejected that claim.  After all, we distributors bought products wholesale and sold them to customers retail.  What I didn't take into account was the sideline that made Bill Britt and his henchmen their fortunes.

When my friends and I showed "The Plan" back in the early-eighties, our numbers showed that a "Diamond" distributor, an individual with six "Direct Distributors" in his organization under him, made $36,000 a year.  Then came the "nod-nod-wink-wink" part.  We were always told that Diamonds in the Britt organization made at least three times that amount of money.  However, they never really explained how.  I learned later it was through their "tool" business.

Our leaders were fond of saying that tools were needed for every occupation.  A carpenter needed saws and hammers.  A barber needed scissors.  A pilot needed a plane.  You get it.  What tools did a successful Amway distributor need?  Motivational materials:  Books, tapes, seminars and rallies.  The books were typical positive thinking books that you could find in any bookstore (but you always bought them from your direct distributor.)  However, the Britt organization produced their own motivational tapes and held countless seminars and rallies.  That's why the Britt "Diamonds" made so much more money than the normal Amway "Diamonds."  They made vastly much more money selling their books and tapes and staging their rallies than selling Amway products. 

And that's why it was a pyramid scheme.

At a rally in Virginia
The average Amway distributor could sell the official products he bought from his Direct Distributor to his retail customers.  That was the purpose.  However, educational materials that Britt Worldwide produced themselves have zero value outside of the organization.  They told you needed to buy the tapes and attend the seminars.  That it was impossible to succeed in the business without doing so.  They used every psychological tool in their arsenal to coerce, pressure or shame you into buying the tools.  Granted, in theory, you could return them if you quit, but I never knew anyone who did.  People who left the business were losers.  Most of the people who quit were so afraid of being stigmatized as losers that they simply slinked away out of the business with hundreds or thousands of dollars of tapes sitting in boxes in their basements.  (That's what my friends and I did.)  Those few people I know who tried to get refunds for the tapes were so stonewalled that they eventually gave up.

And to make matters worse.  They lied about it.

The direct distributors from Bill Britt on down swore left and right that no one made any money on the tools.  They were providing them at cost as a service.  But it was a lie.  Granted, low level people like myself perpetrated the lie unknowingly.  Britt Worldwide didn't initiate the chosen into the truth until they reached the level of direct distributor.  By then, they were generally too invested in the system, and too greedy, to complain or turn down a healthy stream of income.  I didn't start believing the rumors about people making money until an incident in our group.  A young woman joined and became an overnight success.  She reached the level of direct distributor, building an impressive organization, in just three months.  Then she abruptly quit.  When I asked why someone told me that when higher-ups told her about the books and tapes, she became disillusioned and quit.  Around that time, my higher-ups began a "Tape of the Week" policy.  They pressured everyone in the organization into buying a certain tape every week so that we would all "be on the same page mentally."  Now I recognized it for what it was:  A shameless attempt to milk their people for more money.  I wasn't surprised when the "Tape of the Week" was a more expensive double tape set.   Why sear the sheep for $3.50 when you could get $7.00.

Liars.

If you think I am being unfair to Bill Britt and Amway, read the details of a recent class action suit from California.   Here's the complaint:  Pokornmy vs Quixtar.  Here's an explanation:  Pokorny Amway Settlement Explained.

This illuminating internal memo, by Amway executive  Ed Postma in 1983, concludes that the Britt/Yager system was probably illegal:  Ed Postma Memo.  (That begs the question:  Why didn't they act?)

To make matters worse they cloaked their lies and greed under the veneer of Christianity.  Bill Britt and his crew of henchmen weren't content to be business leaders.  Their weekend rallies were held in sporting arenas that held 15,000-to-20,000 people and they all ended with a big church service on Sunday morning.  Who did the preaching?  The leaders like Bill Britt, of course.  After all, material success was all the proof you needed of God's blessing, so obviously the richest people in the room were most qualified to preach.   In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says:  "No one can serve two masters.  Either you will hate one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money."  Not so!  In Amway, we combined God and Money together in the person of Bill Britt.

I will save my detailed analysis of the Prosperity Gospel for another day, but I will say that the thousands of dollars I wasted on the tool business were insignificant compared to that damage that the Prosperity Gospel did to my faith.  I came into the business with a strong relationship with God built on child-like faith, prayer and obedience.  The Amway gospel was different.  According to them, God had established immutable spiritual laws that gave us to have and do anything we wanted provided we used the right words when we made our claims and had sufficient faith.  Essentially, it took God out of the drivers' seat.  They taught you that seeking God's will was a cop-out for losers.  Our will was God's will.  They reduced God to a spiritual force to be used to achieve our desires.  I knew this was wrong.  And I resisted it.  However, constant exposure to these teachings and philosophy, through the required books, tapes and educational seminars, eventually took their toll on me.  Instead of serving God, I expected God to serve me.  Instead of me being obedient to Him, I expected Him to be obedient to me.  That didn't work out too well for me, and it took me years to exorcise this heresy from my thought processes.

Still, despite the damage the prosperity gospel did to me, when I think of Bill Britt, I primarily think of the general hatefulness that he and his henchmen instilled in me.  He divided the world into winners and losers -- and 99% of the population were losers.  Your value as a human being was entirely dependent on your net worth,or your attitude toward the Amway business.  You could be poor as dirt and still be a winner if you were in Amway. 

Pretending to be Bill Britt
Today, whenever I find myself judging a person based on the way they are dressed or the car they drive or house they live in, I see Bill Britt smiling.

Now he's dead.  When I posted the news on my Facebook page, one of my old friends who survived the business with me said that he hoped Bill was burning in hell.   I don't feel that way.  I don't wish that fate on anyone.  Even Bill Britt.

It doesn't take long to find glowing eulogies about him on the internet.  Amway distributors from all over the world praised him upon his passing.  That's not surprising. 

In the world of Amway, he was a god -- but with a small g. 

A false idol.

For more, read my book:  The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God

3 comments:

  1. Sean, My name is Eric. Your story is 100% true; what you described is spot on... The only additional thing I would add is that I was negatively impacted by Amway/Briitt/Yeager/Zender... The whole crew were proud, greedy, and vile liars. It was a cult in the 70s and 80s (that's when we quit). Looking back, the worst years of my life. My comment on Bill Britt - "probably the most arrogant, prideful, out of shape, used car salesman I have ever met; he used his supposed faith as a tool to manipulate others for his greedy desires. God will decide what was in Bill's heart and where he will be for eternity. All I can say is that the whole crew were a bunch of slimy eels that nobody will remember 50 years from now. Bill and Peggy should have serous regrets for the damage they help to cause between family members and the number of friendships that were destroyed because of Amways horrible plan.

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to respond, Eric. It sounds like we've had very similar experiences. Who knows? We might've bumped into each other at one of the larger functions. Since posting blog, I have talked to a few folks who gave me more detailed information about the Britt Organization. The deception, including self-deception, was mind boggling.

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  2. The Yager organization (which I was part of for three years) operates much the same way. Politics, spirituality, life dreams and relationships are deeply personal issues for most of us, and the organization manipulated all of these to get inside people's heads and manipulate their thinking for profit. I fought with my conscience from day one. I wanted to do things ethically and honestly, but was repeatedly told that my methods would not bring "success" (or at least their definition of it). I bought the tapes, but often found myself more angered than inspired. I dreaded the rallies and functions because I simply could not relate to these people and their message. I finally had to decide between my own values and the values of the organization. Thank God my values won out in the end, and I was able to move on. When I learned about the tool business years later, it all made sense. I felt betrayed, as we were never told about tool profits at the time, but I was even more thankful that I bailed when I did. One day I ran across one of my old TOW's and played it for my wife. She said "I don't get it...all they say on the tape is to buy more tapes". I said "now you get it".

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