Granted, there’s no such thing as an ordinary billionaire. But Diane Hendricks has got to be one of the most unusual people in that category. With a net worth of $6.8 billion as of April 2019, Hendricks chairs ABC Supply, which she has run solo since 2007. But the story behind those numbers reveals a smasher of stereotypes. Hendricks is self-made and was once a teen mom. She describes herself as an only-average student who never went beyond high school (and earned that diploma studying at home while pregnant.) No one else could ever duplicate the combination of determination, opportunity and hard work that has made Hendricks the richest self-made woman in the U.S. as of the Forbes 2018 ranking. But anyone can learn something from billionaire Diane Hendricks’ business approach and values.
When the foremost female billionaire was a farm girl
Hendricks is also No. 76 on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans. She is known for contributing more than $1 million to Republican causes and vocally (and financially) supporting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and President Donald Trump. She could not have foreseen that future growing up as one of nine kids, all girls, on a Wisconsin dairy farm. She was born in 1947 and learned a hard work ethic she never forgot from her parents.
But farming was not for her. “I had a beautiful life, living on the farm. Nice house, big square white house,” she told Forbes. “But… I always wanted to go to the city. I wanted to wear a suit.” Before she realized that dream, however, Hendricks wore maternity clothes as an expectant teen mom. And this happened in the early ’60s, at a time when unwed mothers didn’t have their own shows on MTV. She had to study from home, for example, and turn her assignments in after the other students left. “Motherhood got in the way real quick and I grew up real fast,” she 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.”
Hendricks’ early experience as a teen mom may partly explain her current dedication to helping teens avoid trouble and reach their potential. One example is Beloit, Wisconsin’s Hendricks CareerTek initiative. Hendricks lives outside Beloit, population 36,966, and the Hendricks Family Foundation has put its resources behind the facility. It offers area kids and teens career development and education opportunities, like classes for “Girls Who Code” and a free Emergency Medical Healthcare Academy based at Beloit Hospital. “My hope is that Hendricks CareerTek will fill a void for the students who aren’t aware of their personal strengths, and how those strengths can be applied for a successful future after graduation,” Hendricks said on the facility’s website.
The earning years begin
As a teen mom, Hendricks started her work career, first waitressing then working at a pen factory. She eventually found a fit selling custom-made homes. This was the start of a period in her life that was super productive and very profitable but only because of a non-stop schedule and lots of hands-on work. Her partner in this was Ken Hendricks, a high school drop-out and roofing contractor she met in 1975 on the custom home circuit and then married. The two had five children in their blended family and had two more as a couple, but Diane still had a crucial role in the family business. Essentially, she and Ken’s father remodeled rental homes, while Ken focused on the couple’s roofing business. In 1982, they used their lines of credit to secure a loan and co-founded ABC Supply, an average shingle supply company. But their company was not modest for long.
Drawing from their own experience, they knew that a wholesale distributor that could offer contractors all roofing brands in one spot would be a hit, and they were right. They may have started with their “one-stop” roofing shop in Beloit first, but they already had plans to carry the concept throughout the U.S. and had earmarked prime locations for their national distributorship. Within ABC Supply’s first 12 years, the two opened 100 stores. They passed a $1 billion milestone in 1998. In 2001, the business became Hendricks Holding Company, with a portfolio of health care and logistic companies included.
Hendricks works on after being widowed
A roofing accident at their own home claimed Ken’s life in 2007, leaving Diane to carry on. Unlike some wealthy widows, she had always been an equal force in their business, and so helming the company as the chair was not a stretch. “I knew the businesses had to go on. It was our life’s work,” Hendricks told the New York Times. She helped her company hang on through the housing market bubble and subsequent recession in the two years after Ken died. She also added 128 locations by purchasing rival Bradco Supply in 2010. The move that brought her the most attention as an individual business owner was purchasing L&W Supply for $670 million in 2016. At the time of Ken’s death, the company had been worth around $3 million. With these savvy moves, Diane had brought the business to a value of $9 billion.
As for being an unusual billionaire, add this other interest to Hendricks’ qualifications in that area: She has a sharp interest in film and even helped begin the Beloit International Film Festival. And since no one would ever expect her to invest without also doing some work, it’s no surprise that she’s also produced films that have made it to festivals and won awards, including The Stoning of Soraya M.