A few weeks ago I wrote an article about the Van Andel Institute passing the tin cup to endow a chair for Parkinson's disease research. The gist: Why was the VAI begging for money when its late founder, Amway billionaire Jay Van Andel, promised to donate his fortune to the institute? What happened to the billions that were supposed to back the VAI? In response to the headline of this article: Yes, there's son David Van Andel running the VAI, but where's the Van Andel money to pay for it?
The five-year-old VAI spends about $30 million a year. Until the elder Van Andel's death in December last year, his private foundation covered most of that expense. In January of this year his children announced that they were disbanding the foundation and ending the subsidy to the VAI. What manner of financial support from the Van Andel family was to replace the foundation's contributions has not been made clear. Jay Van Andel and his wife had pledged most of their multi-billion-dollar estate to the operation of the VAI. Now David Van Andel has told the Grand Rapids Press that "a good chunk" of the estate will stay with the institute.
What does that mean? "Stay" is an interesting word here, because if by that the younger Van Andel means a portion of the old foundation will remain committed to the support of the VAI, that actually isn't a very large part of the Van Andel estate. At the time of the elder Van Andel's death, the foundation was endowed with only $150 million out of an estate estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth $2.6 billion. That amounts to less than six percent of the Van Andel fortune. Certainly not most of it or even a "good chunk" of it.
Of course, it's the Van Andel family's business how they honor their parents' wishes. It might make perfectly good financial sense to commit nothing more to the VAI than is necessary for one of the heirs, David, to have a comfortable sinecure for the rest of his life. Then again, maybe Jay's fortune really didn't number in the billions, but only in the millions as is evidenced by his fellow pyramid-builder's recent business dealings. That might explain why there was only $150 million in Jay's private foundation and now his kids won't even commit more than a "good chunk" of that to his legacy, the VAI.
However, I think it is only fair of the Van Andels to come clean with the public about how much or how little financial support they truly will commit to the VAI. After all, David Van Andel has now announced a huge expansion of the institute that will more than double its size and triple its annual budget and add 400 employees to its payroll. Just the construction costs alone are estimated to be as much as $150 million. The hugely increased expenses to the VAI are expected to be covered by the public through charitable donations, tax-exempt bonds, and grants from government, corporations, and universities.
If the VAI is such a great enterprise that it merits huge contributions of other people's money, how much of a contribution does it merit from the Van Andel family?