‘Scrappy guy’ truly earned his empire

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Saturday, December 22, 2007
— While the 25-year growth pattern of ABC Supply blasted through the roof, its founder kept his feet planted firmly in the soil of Rock County.

The Beloit-based ABC, which was rocked Friday by the news of Ken Hendricks’ death, is the largest wholesale distributor of roofing in the United States and one of the nation’s largest distributors of siding, windows and other building products.

With 6,000 employees in 390 locations nationwide, ABC does about $3 billion in business a year.

That’s a long way from the company Hendricks and his wife, Diane, started in 1982, when the couple bought three roofing supply centers with visions of a national distribution chain.

Tired of dealing with multiple suppliers—many of which were unable or unwilling to give him what he needed—Hendricks turned his dream into reality, and ABC was off an running.

Personal wealth followed, as Forbes magazine recently listed the 66-year-old as the 91st richest person in the United States with a net worth of $3.5 billion.

But wealth didn’t faze Hendricks, who many people have said was as common as common can be.

“It doesn’t make any difference to me: I can’t spend it,” he said in an interview with Inc. magazine in September 2006. “I’d have to sell the company, and I’ll sell the company over my dead body.”

Awards and accolades for Hendricks and ABC Supply accompanied the wealth. Inc. last year named Hendricks its “Entrepreneur of the Year.” And ABC has held its place on Forbes’ list of America’s largest private companies.

Hendricks was “a scrappy, Midwestern dirt-under-the-fingernails type of guy who raised himself and created a company that employed all these people,” Inc. Editor Jane Berentson said.

Hendricks and his wife also owned a property development group with more than 25 million square feet of industrial and commercial real estate. They worked to renovate buildings made vacant by other companies.

The couple has been credited with the rebirth of Beloit, as well as the greasers of the wheels for the economic renaissance of Rock County and other parts of the country.

“Ken clearly was a man of vision who had great interest in our community and a passion for the Mississippi River,” said Jim Bowman, executive director of Renew Moline, one of the Quad Cities where Hendricks had ongoing riverfront projects.

“He was all about creating jobs. He was a champion for blue collar workers, particularly those who worked in the trades.”

Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, said Hendricks was the epitome of persistence, and it earned him the council’s 2006 “Seize the Day” award.

“He was a great guy because he overcame so many obstacles to build ABC Supply, and then he used the company for the betterment of his community and own employees in very creative ways,” Still told Wisconsinbusiness.com on Friday.

Still said he hopes Hendricks’ family members, the majority of whom are involved in the business, will carry on his philanthropic and commercial efforts.

“Part of Ken’s legacy is he surrounded himself with good people and that his family is very much involved in the company,” he said. “I’m confident they will carry on in his spirit.”

Leigh Buchanan, an at-large editor for Inc. magazine, is confident, too.

“The company is in good hands with David Luck as president and Diane and all the kids involved,” Buchanan said.

“The Ken Hendricks way of doing things is deeply ingrained.”

Material from The Associated Press was used in this story.

Last updated: 10:27 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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