Forbes magazine recently released its list of the 60 richest self-made female entrepreneurs in the US. While much of the ensuing debate has been about the decision of its editors to put Kylie Jenner on the cover of the magazine as an example of a self-made woman, it’s worth going beyond that to appreciate the diversity and achievements of these women.
Take for example, the woman at the very top of the list, Diane Hendricks. The Wisconsin billionaire owns ABC Supply, which is the largest wholesale distributor of roofing, siding and windows in America. The Hendricks story is like a main street small business fairytale.
Diane and her husband, Ken, founded ABC Supply in 1982. They both came from solid but humble families. Diane’s parents were small dairy farmers, while Ken worked in his dad’s roofing business.
Before she had finished high school, and before she had met Ken, Diane became pregnant. She held down several jobs while she raised her first child. “Motherhood got in the way real quick and I grew up real fast,” Hendricks told Forbes. “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 been working as a successful roofing contractor for some time before meeting Diane, who was selling custom-made homes when she met Ken. They married in 1975. The couple started to build their fortune by flipping real estate in their local town Beloit in Wisconsin, buying cheap properties and renovating them using their own sweat and skills.
Soon enough, they had enough money stashed away to start ABC Supply, which now has around 750 locations and 14,000 associates nationwide. ABC Supply is part of the umbrella company Hendricks Holding Company.
Their mission statement is simple and bold:
“Hendricks is dedicated to promoting and preserving the American Dream by helping people accomplish the extraordinary — based on our fundamental belief that every person has within themselves the ability to do great things.”
Sadly, Ken Hendricks died in 2007, after he suffered head injuries from a fall. He had been up on a roof checking on construction works at the time. Over the past decade, Diane has continued to run and grow the business she started with her husband.
Much of her drive and commitment over the past few years has been focused on reviving the town of Beloit. Part of this effort has involved trying to modernise the town’s economy by making it a more tech and startup-friendly place to do business. Hendricks’ mission to turn her town around was featured in this New York Times profile:
“Not long ago, Beloit’s economy was ugly. Like many American cities — Detroit, Youngstown, Gary — it had fallen victim to the damage that is wrought when one major industry vanishes from town, reversing local fortunes.
“Beloit is different today. That’s because this town of nearly 37,000 has a billionaire who has gone to great lengths to help it turn a corner.”
The mission to revive Beloit is in keeping with the values of Diane Hendricks and her companies, including giving back to the community: “We express gratitude for what we have by donating our time and resources; we share what we have to help improve our communities and our world.”
Diane Hendricks’ story of roofing and small-town real estate is a long way from the glitz and glamour of Kylie Jenner. There’s room enough in the world to appreciate both for their merits. What the two stories show is that women from very different places and with very different backgrounds can be entrepreneurs and build things for themselves. That’s worth celebrating.