Dexter Yager sold dreams.
His dreams of prosperity helped fill up the old Charlotte Coliseum with thousands of fellow dreamers. They made him a player in politics. They helped him acquire millions of dollars along with a fleet of more than 50 cars, including Rolls-Royces and Mercedes, four boats and a private jet.
Yager, 79, died Jan. 6.
He was one of the most successful distributors in Amway, the company that used multi-level marketing to sell everything from soap and cosmetics to a way of life.
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From Charlotte, he once oversaw half of Amway’s global sales network of 2 million people. His distributors sold $2 billion worth of products a year. One multi-level marketing site said he earned up to $12 million as recently as a decade ago.
“He was a good salesman, and he so bought into that whole system that he convinced anybody else that they could do it too,” friend Ty Boyd, a former Charlotte broadcaster and motivational speaker, told the Observer Friday.
Multi-level marketing programs like Amway let people make money by selling products and by recruiting networks of others to do the same. When the Observer did a series on Yager and his Amway empire in 1995, distributors followed the Yager System, attended Yager rallies, read Yager books and listened to Yager tapes.
“You’ve got to keep them dreaming,” Yager once said in “Dreambuilders,” the network’s magazine. “Take them dreaming . . . so that they get hungry for the things . . . We’ve got to keep them looking at houses, boats, planes, cars, vans, coaches, expanding and stimulating and fertilizing that powerful brain that God gave every one of them until they believe they deserve more, and they will go after it and they will get it.”
Growing up in upstate New York, Yager showed an early affinity for sales. He made money peddling soda, which he bought for a nickel and sold for a dime. After high school he took a series of sales jobs. He sold Sears tools, Ford cars and Utica Club beer.
In 1964, a relative introduced him to Amway and he was hooked. “Amway became my top priority,” he once said. “I ate, slept and breathed the business seven days a week.”
Yager was a major financial backer of former Republican U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick. His company, Yager Enterprises, paid national figures such as Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush to speak.
Like Amway itself, Yager had his critics. But in his heyday he would fill the Coliseum for rallies of people who came to hear him preach his own prosperity gospel.
“They were all wannabes,” said Boyd. “And they wanted to be just like Dexter.”
Jim Morrill, who grew up near Chicago, has worked at the Observer since 1981 and covered state and local politics since the mid-1980s. He’s taught about North Carolina politics at UNC Charlotte and Davidson College.