Jim and Nancy Ayers stand holding hands

Jim '79 and Nancy Ayres

Building the Leaders of Tomorrow

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Jim and Nancy Ayres are strongly connected to Grand Valley and Laker athletics. They discuss why they support the university, their commitment to community service, and why Jim occasionally rappels off tall buildings.

Tell us about your Grand Valley connection.

Jim: I was recruited by the Lakers to play football. I had a rough start; my first year GPA was 0.8 and I was expelled. I’m fortunate that I was readmitted. I attended classes, studied, applied myself, and never looked back. I earned a degree in biology and returned to the football team. At Grand Valley, I learned to apply myself, honed my skills in critical and conceptual thinking, and made lifelong friends. It was an incredible experience.

Nancy: I am a Laker by marriage. When Jim and I married in 1988, I didn’t know too much about Grand Valley. Because Jim played football, we attended many home games and I got to know the football alumni group. I was a judge for the FIRST Robotics competition held on campus every year. I am now a huge fan of Grand Valley, both as a quality institution and a great partner in the West Michigan community.

What are some of the best parts of your job at Amway?

Jim: In my current role I lead strategy and operations for the Amway business in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. It’s intense, but it’s fun. Each day varies from making strategic decisions, resolving operational issues, and ensuring that all stakeholders are aligned with our direction. But the most important part of my job is helping each employee grow and develop. That is my No. 1 priority. Then our employees, in turn, help our Amway business owners meet their goals for success.

How did your time at Grand Valley help prepare you for your career path?

Jim: My biology degree was critical for my career; that may sound strange, because I’ve never had a job in the biology field. In my classes, I learned how systems work, how to translate concepts into creative ideas, the scientific method and problem solving, and principles of leadership — all examples of how Grand Valley prepared me for my MBA and set me on a path of lifelong learning.

You both volunteer in the community; where did that motivation come from?

Nancy: We both had great role models in our mothers. I was the fourth of six children and my mom always taught us that we needed to do what we could to leave the world a better place. Jim and I feel that if you have passion for the cause, you will find the energy to help. My passions were around workforce development and employee health and wellness. 

Six years ago, I was able to make a transition from working to spending more time with family and volunteering for the community. Now, my passion for helping develop people is focused on my three grandchildren plus my nonprofit board work in the community.

Jim: My mother was a community activist for civil rights. She modeled community involvement for me. I am active in causes with which I have a personal connection. I believe each of us has tremendous capacity to make our community a better place for all. 

What are some of your favorite things to do in Grand Rapids?

Nancy: We sold our house five years ago and downsized to a condo in downtown Grand Rapids. We love being downtown and enjoy the many restaurants, concerts, and the general lifestyle. We feel more connected to the community. 

Circle G from GVSU logo

Jim, why do you rappel down buildings?

Jim: I believe success in life is based upon good habits. One habit I work at developing is stepping toward opportunities that scare me. Why rappel? First, it is a fundraiser for Easter Seals, a charity that helps families dealing with physical handicaps. Second, I model courage and leadership for my staff. Third, rappelling reinforces my habit. 

When I’m standing on the edge of a 34-story building, my mind is screaming at me to get down and be safe. But I ignore it, grab my ropes, and step off the building. I’ve done it seven times. It doesn’t get any easier, but it does strengthen my ability to step toward challenging opportunities.

What do you hope your gift to Laker athletics does for student athletes?

Jim: One thing I love about Laker athletics is the commitment to excellence. It’s not necessarily about winning all the time. It’s about doing things the right way and building the leaders of tomorrow. Nancy and I are committed to helping student athletes grow and succeed. Part of that is providing facilities and tools that enhance their experience and reflect excellence. We are honored to be able to support that effort.

What would you say to encourage others who are considering giving to Grand Valley?

Jim and Nancy: We believe the university is building the leaders of tomorrow. Grand Valley has made a significant impact on our family and our lives. It reflects our values of equal opportunity for all, diversity, and commitment to excellence. A gift to Grand Valley is a gift that will impact our community for years to come.

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