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Hendricks was blueprint for business success

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JAMES P. LEUTE
December 22, 2007
— Ken Hendricks was the entrepreneur’s entrepreneur, and that’s why he was the poster boy for Inc. magazine—the national periodical that bills itself as “The Handbook of the American Entrepreneur.”

Hendricks, who died Friday, graced the magazine’s cover a year ago when he was named “Entrepreneur of the Year.”


Leigh Buchanan, an editor-at-large for the magazine, said Hendricks was the epitome of what her subscribers wanted to be. All entrepreneurs have ideas, she said, but Hendricks turned his into realities.


For nearly 30 years, Inc. and Buchanan have followed the meteoric rise of Hendricks and ABC Supply, which he founded in Beloit in 1982 and is now the nation’s largest wholesale distributor of roofing materials.


Hendricks started the company with a base of local market expertise and service backed by centralized support and cost efficiencies. In 1984, ABC landed in the No. 3 spot on the Inc. list of the 500 fastest growing companies in the United States.


The following year, ABC was No. 2. The next year, it was No. 1.


“That was a triumph never before accomplished, just phenomenal,” Buchanan said in a phone interview Friday from New York. “The man showed that he could build a company faster than lightning.”


Buchanan said Hendricks’ secret was his eye for opportunity, and the ability to see economic possibilities where others saw none.


“He would look at something and see right through to the bones,” she said. “He wasn’t distracted by a lack of flash.”


“Lack of flash” appropriately describes many of the projects Hendricks embraced. For himself and others, he spun a web of successful businesses in Rock County and beyond by renovating and reusing buildings that others left behind.


The concept was relatively simple: Hendricks’ real estate company would buy a building and add it to its holdings. The company doing business there would usually move to an upgraded facility in the portfolio, and the old property would be available for a new tenant that Hendricks would invariably find.


In Janesville, that happened a couple of years ago when Hendricks bought the former Parker Pen plant. He then bought the former Panoramic building on Riverside Street, and Panoramic moved into the Parker Pen plant. Hendricks lured Schuler’s Fine Furniture from its North Main Street location into a lease in the renovated Panoramic building. Hendricks then bought the Schuler property.


The pattern reappeared when Hendricks bought the former CB&K property in downtown Janesville and the supplier moved into a former Gilman plant that Hendricks also owned. Other businesses quickly opened in the former CB&K property.


“Ken was good to work with,” said Larry Cohen of CB&K. “He treated us fairly, but he wasn’t going to give us anything.”


In the Beloit area, Hendricks invested his vision, money and time into a multitude of projects. He reclaimed the former Beloit Corp.’s 35-acre complex as a multi-tenant manufacturing and office center. Other projects include turning a vacant nursing home into a halfway house and rehabilitating and repurposing the Beloit Mall as a convention center and new library for Beloit.


When he wasn’t rehabbing buildings, he was appealing to prospective tenants and, in some cases, offering financial backing.


Reflecting on interviews she did with Hendricks in 1985 and again last year, Buchanan said Hendricks never wavered in his commitment to make Rock County a better place to live, work and do business.


“His loss will leave a huge hole in the Beloit area,” she said, adding that his legacy will live on for a long time.


“Ken was a real teacher. He was very good at explaining to people how he looked at a (profit and loss) statement, how he looked at a company’s management. People have learned from his examples.”


Debra Malewicki, director of UW-Whitewater’s corporate programs, said she was always impressed with Hendricks’ willingness to talk with people.


“He was an incredibly busy guy, a very important guy, but he had a way of making connections with people,” Malewicki said, adding that Hendricks went out of his way to make himself available as a speaker for UW-Whitewater’s business outreach efforts in the Beloit area.


“He was so unselfish, so down to earth,” she said. “Quite frankly, our clients ran the gamut of sophistication, but Ken always found a way to connect with them.”



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