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Brig Hart found evangelical Christianity and success in multilevel marketing at the same time. Today, the top distributor for Utah-based MonaVie's nutritional fruit juice has a mansion in Florida, a Lamborghini and a Rolls-Royce.
He's probably the wealthiest multilevel distributor in the world, a few years ago earning more than $600,000 a month.
Utah is a hub of multilevel, or network, marketing, in which independent distributors earn commissions based on the number of people they recruit, who in turn get others to join. But Hart is the rare example among them of someone who makes it big. Really, really, really big.
"I don't know if I'm the top networker," Hart said in a recent interview by phone from Jacksonville, Fla., where he lives. "Shoot, I don't think I've done anything. But I am probably the highest-paid, earning more commissions that any person on planet Earth."
Hart credits God for his success in recruiting more than 2 million people for his "downline" after he came together with a group of mostly Mormons to build a fountain of wealth. But he also has used questionable health claims about the MonaVie juice and he admits that the industry's high rate of distributor turnover means the game is all about constant recruiting to replace those who leave.
Brig Hart is very good at that and his riches help explain why so many people are attracted to the promises of multilevel marketing, despite near impossible odds of becoming wealthy like him.
"I came to know the Lord" • Hart was born to a middle-class family in Florida. After high school, the son of an alcoholic father went into the Marine Corps. Once out, he opened a series of a surf shops in Florida, but around 1978 the enterprises were in financial trouble, and Hart says he was drinking and doing drugs.
It was then that Hart said he became sold on Amway, the direct seller of consumer products and the original MLM (multilevel marketer). Still, he was idle for months after.
"But in that year and three months, I had a spiritual conversion," he said in the interview to promote a new book, Why Not You, Why Not Now? "I came to know the Lord, kind of turned my life around, away from the drugs and alcohol and riotous living."
Over the next 19 years, Hart said, he "made history in the industry."
After joining Amway in 1978, he produced $5.5 billion in sales, and made more than $100 million himself in one 12-year period, Hart said.
"Before God, Brig was a long-haired, hippy-type surfer, broke and going to hell," he said. "And after I came to know the Lord, I'm [still] in the same business I can do no wrong."
Despite his success, Hart is bitter about Amway. He left in 2000 after he battled the company and high-level distributors in court over what he alleged were efforts to deny him profits from an ancillary business, the sales to distributors of "tools," such as recordings of inspirational talks, business-building materials and pay-to-attend meetings.
In March 2008, Amway sued Hart and other distributors who had left for MonaVie, alleging they violated contracts or lured away distributors with false claims about MonaVie's products. The suit was settled late last year; terms were not disclosed.
"Amway was jealous," Hart said of the lawsuit. "They're embarrassed that I left. I left because they're an illegitimate company. They don't pay their distributors. It's a falsehood. It's the worse compensation plan on planet Earth."
He said that his generation of $350 million sales a year netted him less than $1 million in annual commissions.
"But I made $8 million to $10 million a year selling books and tapes and running functions," Hart said.
Jenie Altruda, head of public relations for Amway in North America, said: "Our response is Amway's differences with Brig Hart are gladly behind us."
Evangelical among Mormons • In 2004, Hart said he was diagnosed with melanoma. After a major operation, he wanted to find a natural treatment as an alternative to chemotherapy. That was what led him to MonaVie, a drink containing 19 fruits, including the açai berry from the Amazon area of Brazil, which was made by a Utah company called Monarch Health Sciences.
"You can't [say] that a food cures anything" because of federal regulations, Hart said. "But it did God healed me. That's the statement: God healed me, but MonaVie helped. I built my immune system by drinking the product."
Hart said he and wife Lita flew to Utah and met with Monarch. Hart believed in the juice but was not immediately sold on the company.
"What they were doing, in our opinion, was merchandising substandard weight-loss products," Hart said, adding he and Lita helped to convince the company to focus on one product, the juice.
Henry Marsh, a MonaVie founder and vice chairman, confirmed the account. Hart signed up in January 2005 and then began pitching a rebranded company called MonaVie and a juice by the same name. He recalled an early meeting with top execs where he sought to clear the decks about an evangelical Christian working with a company run mostly by Mormons, who some evangelicals believe do not practice a true Christianity.
"I let them know straight up-front that I'm very vocal and active about my faith, and they assured me that would not be a hindrance," he said.
Hart quickly built a network of independent distributors, and he probably was the key reason MonaVie took off and its revenue soared to several billion dollars in cumulative sales since 2005.
In 3½ years, he alone did a billion dollars in sales with the company, Hart said, about 85 percent of MonaVie's total.
"He was a very integral part and a catalyst to get us off the ground and get started," said Marsh, adding that "Brig is an unbelievable salesman."
Marsh said Hart is the only distributor who has achieved the company's highest rank, called double crowne black diamond, and has received more in commissions than any other.
Hart has become a part-owner of MonaVie.
Takes his Christianity too far • Hart calls his formula for success relational marketing.
"Very simply, people move product, product does not move people," Hart said. "So my focus is on people, helping to find a dream, find a reason why, find a vehicle. So if I'm good relating to people, developing a friendship that moves into an intimate relationship, then friends do what friends do, and it's interactive distribution."
Hart's Christianity also is a large part of his pitch, equating his beliefs to his success.
But one former MonaVie employee said Hart takes his religion too far for some.
"Literally, 'You're not going anywhere unless you're saved,' " said the former employee who asked not to be named because he still works in the MLM business. "Truly, at a meeting one time I think he marched 500 people right outside to the swimming pool and baptized them."
Hart said his religion is an important part of his life and is incorporated into his business as well.
Another aspect of Hart's pitch has aroused controversy inside and outside the company.
Although he might be mindful of regulations that restrict him from directly saying MonaVie cures diseases, Hart has found ways to make that point at distributor meetings.
"Here's what I know. I had me some back pain, and I ain't got no back pain no more. I had me a little bit of cancer, ain't got no cancer no more," Hart has said, according to a transcript made by Amway. "Now, I'm not saying this product did it, but I will tell you this: I didn't do anything different other than drinking this product."
On stage at another meeting, Hart interviewed a man identified as Chris Sanders who said he had been drinking MonaVie juice, according to the Amway transcript:
"Hart: And, how much you drinking?
Sanders: Three ounces in the morning and three ounces in the afternoon.
Hart: Praise God. That always does my heart good. OK, what's happened since you been on it?
Sanders: Dropped my blood pressure down to 135 over about 85. It was 190 over 120. Lost five pounds.
Hart: (whisper) Come on.
Sanders: And my sister-in-law just called me tonight. She has fibromyalgia. She had one bottle.
Hart: (whisper) This is good.
Sanders: And her neck and arm has stopped hurting, and she's been off it for two days, and now she's begging for another bottle."
In response to the allegations in the Amway suit, Hart said, "It wasn't true. I wasn't making claims I couldn't substantiate."
Court documents show, however, that Hart's own attorney said in a July hearing that Hart had been disciplined by MonaVie for statements in a report put out by his tools company, R3 Global. Marsh declined to comment directly, saying only that the company has procedures to investigate and discipline distributors who make overreaching claims.
The former MonaVie employee said Hart caused a lot of consternation in the company but, because he was so integral to its success, was largely untouched.
"If you talk to any of the compliance people, there's been concessions made for Brig because of what he brought to the table. There just have been so many compromises made that it's very difficult for someone with strong ethics to stand by and watch that happen."
Amway in its lawsuit said that evidence it gathered showed that MonaVie management declined to act against Hart on certain health claims he made despite concerns expressed by employees.
"I'm gonna bless ya" • Hart's incredible success is by far in sharp contrast to the vast majority of MLM distributors in an industry where the average annual dropout rate is about 56 percent a year, according to the Direct Selling Association.
Hart acknowledges the need for constant recruiting to replace those who quit and to keep cash flowing in from required automatic monthly shipments to distributors.
"I have nothing to lose or gain in telling the truth. I love this industry," Hart said. "But our industry is all about sponsoring them faster than they quit. So you have to put them in faster than they get out."
The dropouts put forth only a "minor effort," Hart said. "Most people will talk to one or two people, and they're not good at rejection. … I call it the laziness, ignorance and fear factor."
He insists that success is open to all those who want it.
"The 100 percent who decide to make it in anything, make it," Hart said.
Hart calls himself one of those "half of 1 percenters" who make it big really big.
Amway, in its suit against Hart and MonaVie, included a partial transcript of a talk Hart gave to distributors designed to teach them how to build a downline. He advised them to write down the names of people they influence in their lives, call them and after chatting them up, pitch them on MonaVie.
Hart advised them to say: "We're taking this nutritional beverage to market called MonaVie. It's changing people's lives. People are drinking it, feeling it, sharing it, seeing results. Back pain, neck pain, psoriasis, da, da, da. When you hear diabetes, that type thing. And people are seeing amazing results, and they're paying ridiculous amounts of money to people to market it. Give me your credit card and Social Security number. I'm gonna bless ya."
Twitter: tomharveysltrib The state of supplements • This is another in a series of occasional stories about Utah as the nation's multilevel marketing capital amid criticism of nutritional product companies that rely on independent distributor networks. Read other stories in the series at sltrib.com/topics/supplements.