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Billionaire Hendricks dies after fall

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JAMES P. LEUTE
December 21, 2007

Ken Hendricks, the Janesville native who rose from roofer's son to roofing-company billionaire, died this morning from injuries suffered in a fall at his Afton home Thursday night.


Hendricks, 66, apparently was checking on construction work at the home when he fell shortly after 10 p.m. Emergency crews were dispatched to his house in the 4000 block of Eau Claire Road at 10:18 p.m.


According to Rock County Sheriff's Department reports:


Diane Hendricks, Ken's wife, told responders that they had returned home about 10 minutes before the accident from a business party. Ken walked out the house door onto the floor above a new garage under construction to see how much work had been completed.


Authorities said the floor above the garage was covered with blue tarps held in place by two-by-four boards nailed down to the tarp in various places.


Diane went back to their vehicle to carry bags into the house. She couldn't find Ken in the house and began yelling for him. She walked out onto the new floor above the garage but didn't find him and went outside to look for him.


Diane found her husband lying on the concrete garage floor unconscious.


Diane called 911 and started CPR until deputies arrived at 10:25 p.m.


Town of Beloit EMS and city of Beloit paramedics responded, and Beloit paramedics at 10:48 p.m. transported Hendricks to Beloit Memorial Hospital. He eventually was transferred to Rockford Memorial Hospital, where he died at 4:48 a.m., Winnebago County (Ill.) Coroner Sue Fiduccia said.


An autopsy will be conducted today, she said.


Hendricks was chairman and chief executive officer of ABC Supply in Beloit, the largest wholesale distributor of roofing and siding materials, tools and supplies in the United States.


Earlier this year, Forbes pegged his net worth at $3.5 billion, a figure Hendricks often scoffed at, saying net worth was something that only existed on paper.


While Hendricks had risen to the top of the business world, he was deeply grounded in the scrappy lessons he learned while growing up in a small house on Janesville's west side. He roofed houses side-by-side with his father, forming an "underdog" team that Hendricks said was often shunned by the "country club community."


In 1982, Hendricks turned his vision for a dependable national distribution network into a reality: ABC Supply Co., which has grown monumentally with the help of his wife and partner, Diane, and seven children, most of whom are involved in businesses controlled by the Hendrickses.


Along the way, Hendricks has been responsible for hundreds of economic development projects that have improved the lives of thousands of people in southern Wisconsin and around the country.


While some people watched Hendricks buy up and develop Rock County's vacant parcels like properties in a Monopoly game, he said his mission was anything but a game.


"I dropped out of school in the 11th grade, and I look in the mirror and say, ‘My god, how many people out there are like me?" he said in a 2005 interview with the Gazette. "What a great country this would be if we could replace Wal-Mart with companies like ABC.'"


While that may seem egotistical to some, Hendricks said his ego was always in check.


"All the people here are my friends," he said of his co-workers in 2005. "I don't feel that I'm any better than anybody who works here. And who the hell am I? I dropped out of school in 11th grade, a roofer's kid. What gives me the right? There's nothing elitist about me."


Those who knew or worked with Hendricks agreed when interviewed this morning.


"The whole area—the state of Wisconsin—lost a visionary business leader, someone whose heart was firmly planted in southern Wisconsin," said John Beckord, president of Forward Janesville, where Hendricks served on the board of directors.


"He had this remarkable commitment to help people who wanted to help themselves bootstrap their way up."


Steve Sheiffer, Janesville's city manager, called Hendricks "a great guy; one of the nicest people I've ever known.


"That's how he treated everyone," Sheiffer said. " I feel terrible for Diane and his family."


Beloit City Manager Larry Arft struggled to describe the loss to the city of Beloit from Hendricks' death.


"Right now, everybody's still in shock," Arft said. "... Ken leaves a tremendous legacy, and it's certainly going to be felt throughout this region and beyond.


"In addition to his family and friends, the entire city of Beloit will be in mourning over the loss of one of its leading citizens," Arft said. "Ken has a tremendous legacy that he has built in Beloit, not only his personal business enterprises but his support for the city, the college and the many nonprofit organizations here in Beloit and the tremendous support he and Diane had for the arts."


Arft also mentioned the Hendrickses' ABC Supply, headquartered in Beloit: "We have a lot of confidence in the family members and the management cadre at the company. I'm sure it will work itself out over time."


ABC officials were not commenting this morning on the their leader's death. A company attorney was flying to Beloit to draft a statement that was to be released later today.


Employees and acquaintances contacted this morning were shocked.


"Ken had to be one of the most uniquely incredible individuals I've ever met," said Jim Fitzgerald of Janesville, who had become a friend of Hendricks over the years and worked with him a couple of years ago on a proposal to move the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds to a spot between Janesville and Beloit.


"He could look into a situation and see something so much different than you or I."


Fitzgerald noted the irony in Hendricks' death.


"He built his life and empire on roofing and construction, and look what happened," he said.


Business partner Roger Frank had known Hendricks so long he couldn't remember how they first met.


"It's just going to be a heck of a loss," he said. "My family knew him. Everyone liked him real well."


Frank received a call with the news of Hendricks' death as he was driving past Hendricks' home this morning.


"Ken was a good business man," Frank said. "There's just no question about it. But he was fair."


The business friends had taken family vacations together, and Frank had waved to Hendricks when their vehicles passed near his home earlier this week.


"He was one of those kind of guys that if somebody was the underdog, and he thought that they were OK, he would help them out," Frank said. "That's the way he was."


Sally McGovern, executive director of the Beloit Janesville Symphony, was another in Hendricks' long line of friends.


"I feel like there's a huge Ken-shaped hole in the world," she said through tears.


Ken Hendricks timeline

The rags-to-riches story of Ken Hendricks' life will take a book to fully document. Here are a few of the milestones in the entrepreneur-philanthropist's life:


Early years: He starts to learn about the building trades with his father, a Janesville roofing contractor. He drops out of high school in 11th grade and marries his girlfriend. He founds his own roofing companies, but after 17 years he gives his companies to his employees. He marries his second wife, Diane, in 1975.


1982—During the economic slowdown of 1982, Ken and Diane take a risk and acquire three supply centers from Bird & Sons. They found American Builders and Contractors Supply. Hendricks' idea was that builders should be treated better by suppliers than the way he often was treated.


1987—ABC Supply has 50 stores. Ken Hendricks is named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.


1992—ABC Supply celebrates its 10th anniversary and is the 12th-largest privately held company in Wisconsin, with 94 stores.


1997—ABC Supply is No. 321 on Forbes magazine's list of America's Largest Private Companies, with 205 stores.


1998—ABC Supply reaches $1 billion in sales.


2002—Hendricks' real estate company buys Arrow Park, the former Parker Pen plant in Janesville. He turns the building into a home for growing businesses.


2003—Ken and Diane Hendricks donate $100,000 to the Janesville Performing Arts Center project. It's one of countless contributions to a wide variety of causes over the years, including the Hendrickses' role in revitalizing Beloit's downtown.


2004—ABC Supply reaches $2 billion in sales. Hendricks Land Development buys a 270-acre parcel west of Janesville for a residential subdivision that will include about 100 homes.


2005—ABC has 5,000 employees in 300 locations in 45 states, including 12 wholesale stores in Wisconsin. It accounts for 20 percent of all roofing sold in the United States. Hendricks' five-year plan is for ABC to have 10,000 employees, 500 wholesale stores and $5 billion in sales, which would represent 35 percent of the nation's roofing market.


2006—ABC Supply moves up to No. 117 on Forbes magazine's list of America's Largest Private Companies. Inc. magazine names Ken Hendricks its Entrepreneur of the Year. ABC reaches nearly $3 billion in sales and averages a new store every one to two weeks. Hendricks works on his latest project to improve the education of local students. He flies the Beloit School Board to Pennsylvania to see a regional technical school that he hopes can become a model for Rock County school districts.


2007—ABC Supply receives the Gallup Great Workplace Award, one of only 12 companies in the world to be so honored. Hendricks has this to say about being named one of the globe's top-performing companies: "It's all about treating people right and showing respect."


ABC Supply has over 350 centers in 45 states and is one of the nation's largest wholesale distributors of exterior building products.


Forbes puts Hendricks at No. 107 on its list of the wealthiest 400 Americans, with an estimated net worth of $2.6 billion.


Hendricks Holding Co. announces it will build a $34 million wind turbine tower factory in Keokuk, Iowa, and hire 350 people. It's just one more of a whirlwind of business deals Hendricks initiated over the years, often buying struggling companies and putting them back on their feet, or buying unused buildings and finding profitable uses for them.


Compiled by Frank Schultz
Sources: ABC Supply Web site, Janesville Gazette files

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