Diane Hendricks, ABC Supply, the Richest Woman in America
BELOIT: Like so many of us, Diane Hendricks began her life in a typical middle-class family and endured the same trials and tribulations as so many of the rest of us. Diane Hendricks was born in 1947 in rural Wisconsin on a dairy farm. One of eight daughters, her father never let his daughters engage in “man’s work” around the farm. Diane’s family moved to another farm in Osseo, Wisconsin, when she was nine.
She would go on to graduate from Osseo-Fairchild High School in 1965 but not before getting pregnant by her first love at 17. She did what she and her parents felt was right and married the father.
“At the time, you couldn’t go to school and be pregnant,” Hendricks said. So she studied at home during her senior year. “I would go up after the other students had left, and do my test and hand in my schoolwork. It was embarrassing but it was okay.”
After the birth of her first child a month before her 18th birthday, she and her husband moved to Janesville, Wisconsin. He found work at the General Motors plant while she got a job on the assembly line of Parker Pen. Diane wasn’t fulfilled by the factory lifestyle. She tried waitressing as well but felt that was not to be her calling either.
Interesting aside: Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R) now lives in the home of Parker Pen founder, the late George Safford Parker. He sits on the Fox News board.
Diane fell out of love with her husband and filed for divorce from him when she was 21. She felt she needed to find a way to support herself and her son alone. Diane was a 28-year-old divorcee in 1975 selling custom-built homes in Wisconsin. It was then that she met a roofing contractor named Ken Hendricks.
Diane talks about her second husband in the most loving ways.
She talks of how they met.
“Soon a man named Ken Hendricks, whom I had never met, called me on the phone trying to arrange a blind date for me with one of his friends,” she said.
They spoke every night on the phone for 3 weeks before they realized they were not talking about the guy Ken intended to set Diane up with for a blind date any more.
“We talked about ourselves, but not about his friend,” she said. Finally, Ken got up the courage to ask Diane out on a date after he told her he really wanted to meet her. Diane said, “By the time I saw him, I knew.” As she watched him walk up to her front door, the first thing she said to him was, “You’ll do.”
Kenneth Hendricks dropped out of high school in the 11th grade. He wanted to ditch his textbooks for a hammer and nails and follow in his roofer father’s footsteps. Much of his childhood had been spent hauling and laying shingles as his dad’s right-hand man. Ken grew up dreaming of one day owning his own roofing company and that dream was achieved in1963. By 1970 his company boasted 500 workers.
They dated, fell in love, got married (1975) and became business partners. Diane had not only found her lover, soulmate, and husband, but also her future business partner. Their lives would become interwoven in nearly every way making for the most perfect union. Even before they were married, the two began working on projects together.
“I’m the one out front, getting things started. Diane is the finisher, taking things down to the last detail,” Ken Hendicks in Inc. Magazine.
Ken and Diane began their business partnership by purchasing almost 100 homes in Beloit, Wisconsin. Ken and his father would fix them up and Diane prided herself as the painter. About 10 percent of them were single-family homes with the rest being multi-unit apartments.
They maxed out their lines of credit to secure a $900,000 loan that allowed them to open the first ABC Supply stores. American Builders and Contractors Supply was founded in 1982 with three stores. They had a dream to create a nationwide chain to carry every single brand of the most popular exterior building materials.
ABC Supply then became the largest wholesale distributor of roofing and siding materials in the United States. When they started the company, the couple owned real estate and roofing businesses together. Diane reflects how
“Motherhood got in the way real quick and I grew up real fast. It didn’t stop me from wanting to reach my dream. In fact I think I became even more focused on what I wanted to achieve.”
Ken had four children from his first marriage, Diane had one, and together they had two more for a total of 7.
Giving birth to a multi-billion dollar company over the course of two and a half decades may seem a little overwhelming to most of us but Diane breaks it down simply. “We knew what the contractor wanted,” she said.
“They needed choices they needed to be treated with respect and professionalism. Even though they might be in a pickup truck, they were running a business and we appreciated the hard work it took to be a roofing contractor.”
“You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to be dissuaded, don’t quit. I’ve got signs in my office, I’ve got it on there, don’t quit. I mean, because quitting… you quit, you’re done. You just gotta be so strong, life is tough, you know. It just is.” – Diane Hendricks
Ken and Diane worked their tails off during the week but made a point to never work on the weekends. They stayed home to spend time on their farm with their kids tending to the horses and bunnies, among other joyful activities.
In 2007 the Hendricks were living the dream until tragedy struck. Ken came home from a business party and went to check on some home renovations they were having done to better accommodate their 17 grandchildren when they came to visit. The 66-year-old Ken was on a new floor above the garage when he fell through. Diane found Ken on the garage floor below.
He would later pass away at the hospital from head trauma.
“The first year was about making it through the day,” Diane remembers. “Instead of sitting next to Ken in a meeting, I was sitting alone.”
All of a sudden, she was forced to shoulder the weight of a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Pretty soon other corporations were lining up to buy ABC from the presumed helpless widow.
Ken’s passing came right before the housing bubble burst but ABC sales were already slipping. It was clear to Diane that carrying on with ABC’s original plans to reach 500 stores by 2010 would be put off. In the wake of declining sales, the company chose to close 30 stores bringing their total to 350.
“Life happens, things get in the way of your goal and your mission and your plan, and you got to take a detour,” Diane said. “[You] don’t have to change your goal. Change your path, be willing to, and don’t see that as a failure. That’s just life… You can’t lose sight of what you really want to do.”
Always looking forward, Diane noticed another opportunity on the horizon. One of ABC’s top competitors, Bradco Supply, had been sold to private equity group, Advent International, and thus had an uncertain future. Bradco had 130 stores and sales of $1.5 billion or so.
In May of 2010, ABC announced its largest acquisition in history, Bradco.
In 2016, ABC announced another big purchase after acquiring L&W Supply for $674 million. This move gave ABC over 700 stores and put the firm on track to reach $9 billion in annual revenue. As of 2020, they held 780 branch locations and pulled in over $10 billion in sales.
One of the many aspects Americans love about Diane Hendricks is she proves capitalism and nationalism beats out socialism and globalism.
Beloit, Wisconsin, was a casualty of the dying manufacturing industry in America like so many other cities and towns. When Beloit Corporation ground to a halt, reverberations were felt throughout the city’s economy as job losses from the ordeal were at 1,500 at the plant itself and another 500 for independent contractors supporting the plant – devastating for a town of 35,000. The company had been one of the world’s largest makers of papermaking machines. Wisconsin led the nation in paper manufacturing in 2011 with nearly $4 billion in output.
To outsiders, these numbers were just statistics but to Diane and Ken, these were their loved ones who were getting destroyed by the loss of livelihoods and dignity.
To make matters worse, physically the City of Beloit was looking blighted.
Diane and Ken decided to do something about the problem!
After Beloit Corporation’s million square feet of industrial and office space sat vacant for years the Hendricks bought the site to establish ABC’s headquarters there. They remodeled the property bringing 14 contractors in to town amounting to a total of about 1,400 jobs!
Another major industry of Beloit, Fairbanks Morse, once employed over 5,000 people in Beloit.
As work dwindled for that company, two-thirds of their 230-acre campus sat unused. Again it looked blighted and began to become quite the eye-sore. As the Hendricks tend to do with things most people can’t find a use for, Ken purchased the property and expanded ABC’s corporate headquarters as it backed ABC’s Beloit Corporation property they bought previously.
After Ken’s 2007 passing Diane continued her efforts to revitalize Beloit.
She moved the town’s library to a nearby shopping mall and replaced the original historical location with a theater for students of Beloit College. Diane purchased an entire block of downtown Beloit and leveled the buildings and replaced them with a trendy sushi spot and upscale burger restaurant.
“It looks like we’re beautifying the city, but we’re really beautifying the economy,” she says.
Diane has worked well with local leaders including those big wigs all the way up to Wisconsin’s governors and President Trump in the White House. She continues bringing companies and employment opportunities to Beloit. Hendricks served as one of 26 economic policy advisers to President Donald Trump.
Diane Hendricks was part of a historic all-women Forbes cover alongside other self-made mogul billionaires.She remains the chairwoman and sole owner of ABC Supply and is said to be the richest woman in America at 11.1 billion dollars.
Read also about Madam C. J. Walker (1867-1919) was the first black woman millionaire in America.
She made her fortune by her own homemade line of hair care products for black women after her own hair loss problem. She was born Sarah Breedlove to parents who had been slaves.
About the author:
Mark Schwendau is a Christian conservative patriot and retired technology professor (CAD-CAM and web development). He prides himself on his critical thinking ability. Schwendau has had a long sideline of newspaper editorial writing where he used the byline, “- bringing little known facts to people who simply want to know the truth.” Mark is on alternative free speech social media platforms after lifetime bans from Facebook and Twitter and shadow bans from Instagram and Fox News commenting.
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