- Diane Hendricks grew up on a rural dairy farm with her parents and nine sisters.
- Ken and Diane Hendricks used their lines of credit to secure a loan that helped them establish ABC Supply in 1982, the first location opened in Beloit.
- Diane purchased the former downtown Beloit library, transforming it into a performing arts center for the city’s residents and students.
- She began buying properties in Delafield in June of 2015, starting with the Delafield Hotel.
Diane Hendricks was born in 1947 in Afton, Wisconsin. She was the daughter of rural Wisconsin dairy farmers, one of nine other sisters. Today, she is one of Lake Country’s top investors, a Republican supporter, and America’s richest self-made woman.
Reminiscing about her childhood, she said, “I had a beautiful life living on the farm. Nice house, big square white house. Although, I always wanted to go to the city. I wanted to wear a suit.” Diane’s father never allowed her or her sisters to participate in “man work” while living on the dairy farm. She added, “Girls did housework, and he hired young men to do the farm work. I would have preferred to be outside.”
Her father, Wally, was a well-known and respected man. Diane testified that individuals would approach her and talk about her father years down the line. They often mentioned that he always had the schools and the community at the forefront of his mind.
From Teen Mom to Highly-Regarded Entrepreneur
Diane’s family moved to a farm in Osseo, Wisconsin, when Diane was nine. She joked around, saying that her favorite subject in school was “boys.” She ended up pregnant by her high school sweetheart at 17. Her parents convinced her to get married and begin their lives as inexperienced young parents.
At the time, schools didn’t allow students to go to class if they were pregnant. Hendricks explained that she had to study at home to earn her diploma, and she would go after the other students went home, do her tests, and hand in schoolwork. She described the experience as “Embarrassing, but it was okay.”
Undoubtedly, this pushed Hendricks into growing up relatively fast once she became a teen mom, something many would call an inconvenience. Many women today believe their ability to grow, succeed, or excel in life is capped once they have children at a young age. However, Diane Hendricks is living proof that you absolutely can achieve your dreams and make something of yourself regardless of the circumstances life throws at you and regardless of your background.
Hendricks gave birth not long after her 18th birthday, starting her adult life with an overwhelming sense of responsibility. She and her husband at the time decided to move to Janesville, Wisconsin. Her husband secured a job with a Chrysler plant, while Diane got a job on an assembly line. The young mother also tried waitressing for some time. These efforts were not fulfilling her visions of what she wanted her life to be. Nevertheless, Diane had big dreams and couldn’t resist following them.
Hendricks admitted in her interview with Forbes in 2017, “Motherhood got in the way quickly, and I grew up fast. 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.” She believes her solid work ethic came from her parents running the farm 24/7, only taking breaks for two weeks per year to road trip with all the kids.
Moving Up The Ladder
Diane Hendricks began selling custom-made homes, where she met her future husband, Ken Hendricks. By this time, Diane had been divorced from her first husband for 10 years. Ken dropped out of high school to pursue his roofing career, joining his Fathers business. The teen mom and the high school dropout worked incredibly hard to build a successful business, and you could say they were more than successful in their shared endeavor. The two ended up having seven children together, resulting in 17 grandchildren.
Hendricks would remodel rentals with her father-in-law while Ken focused on growing the roofing aspect of the business; later, a trucking operation and a wholesale store were added.
Around this time, they found a rundown sugar beet plant in Janesville, just 20 miles away from Beloit. When Ken Hendricks went to a bank within the city to finance the purchase of the plant, he was dismissed. In an interview with The New York Times, Diane recalled the banker saying, “We don’t do business with entrepreneurs, and we don’t want your business.” From that point forward, the couple focused their efforts on Beloit instead of Janesville.
Within three years, Ken and Diane had purchased around 100 homes in the Beloit area. Diane mentioned in an interview, “At the time, we could buy a three-bedroom home for $10,000 and flip it. We did most of the work on these homes by ourselves, with the help of Ken’s father. I painted about 200 units myself.”
Diane and Ken married in 1975, and by the 80s’, they had been successful enough in their business partnership to begin another journey.
Both Ken and Diane Hendricks knew of the increasing demand for a wholesale distributor that provided all roofing brands in one spot. Contractors typically had to visit each manufacturer’s shop individually to find all the needed supplies, which was a significant burden.
The Hendricks couple took on the challenge of improving this process and addressing what contractors wanted. The two used their lines of credit to secure a loan that helped them establish ABC Supply in 1982. They began mapping out locations all over America and proceeded to open their first location in Beloit.
The business was booming for the couple. ABC Supply topped 100 stores by 1994, reaching a total of $1 billion in sales only four years later. They sold roofing, gutters, windows, and siding for residential and commercial buildings. Diane knew that contractors needed choices and to be treated with respect and professionalism. Even though they might be driving a pickup truck, they are running a demanding business.
Ken realized through his extensive experience in roofing that the industry supply chain was limited and wasteful; he also noticed that once he found a store that sold the required products, the owners mistreated contractors.
This pattern of disrespect and inability to provide contractors with what they needed gave Diane the impression that dedicated, hard-working, and honest roofers like her father were treated like they were inferior. She was determined to transform that image. Ken and Diane honed in on customer care and satisfaction, decreasing waste, and ensuring their locations have the necessary products to help contractors get their jobs done.
By 2006, ABC had a staggering 345 store locations and 6,000+ employees. They were bringing in around $3.1 billion in sales.
Salvaging struggling companies became a natural impulse for Ken Hendricks. One of his famous quotes was, “Wrong location? Move it. Wrong people? Replace ’em. Wrong industry? I don’t believe it. I’ve got a company in the machine tools industry, and we’re doing great. I’d happily go into the coal business. It’s how you look at something and how it’s managed that make the difference.”
This power couple knew precisely what contractors needed and could give it to them; this laid the foundation for becoming billionaires.
Unfortunately, in 2007, her husband Ken passed away after an accident where he had fallen through the roof while checking on new construction at their home. The market was showing signs of becoming stagnant, people were lining up to buy ABC Supply, and she had lost her husband and business partner, but Hendricks was unwilling to give up.
She explained that the first year was about making it through the day, one day at a time. Diane Hendricks recalled her feelings of loneliness during that difficult period. She stated, “Instead of sitting next to Ken in a meeting, I was sitting alone.” Diane was now tasked with the massive responsibility of managing a multi-billion dollar business by herself.
She held on tight and decided to navigate through the recession. In 2009, revenue decreased, but ABC Supply was able to recover and ended up purchasing Bradco Supply the following year. This investment added 128 more locations to the business.
After heavy rain, we tend to see a lot of growth. Through hardship, we tend to grow stronger. Diane managed to fight through the challenges life threw at her and make it to the other side, growing the business and helping it become even more successful.
Today, ABC Supply has over 700 locations and employs approximately 12,000 individuals. Diane’s net worth is about $12.4 billion today, making her one of America’s richest self-made women.
Investments and Serving Wisconsin Communities
Records show that Hendricks gave $2 million to the GOP in February. She also donated $500,000 to Wisconsin’s previous Governor, Scott Walker, in his 2012 campaign. She was Walker’s most generous donation that year.
She also supported Paul Ryan, and in 2014 she gave $1 million to the “Freedom Partners Action Fund,” a pro-Republican Super PAC created by the Koch Brothers. She donated another $2 million to Freedom Partners Action Fund in the following two years.
In the 2016 presidential election, she donated approximately $5 million to Reform America Fund, Another Super PAC which opposed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and supported Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson. Diane also served as an economic advisor in Trump’s presidential campaign.
She’s also supported Tim Michels in the race for Wisconsin Governor by donating to his current campaign. She’s also known for being a long-time supporter of Johnson and participated in hosting a fundraiser for Senator Ron Johnson at the home of Tim Michels on August 21, 2022.
Aside from being a GOP-mega donor, Dianne is also a donor to WisconsinEye, and she is co-chair of Rock County 5.0. Rocky Country 5.0 is a five-year initiative to advance Rock County’s economic development vision.
Hendricks has also served on the Stateline Boys & Girls Club boards, Beloit Memorial Hospital, Beloit Foundation, Forward Janesville, Kandu Industries, Blackhawk Bank, and the Hendricks Family Foundation. She also served on the board of trustees of Beloit College.
Diane’s vision for Wisconsin involved resuscitating Beloit after it struggled with economic challenges a few years back. In her interview with The New York Times, she said, “I see old buildings, and I see an opportunity for putting things in them.”
It didn’t take Hendricks long to buy up every old building on a downtown block. She purchased the former downtown Beloit library, transforming it into a performing arts center for the city’s residents and students. She did not remove the library altogether but had it relocated to another part of town near city limits, where a failing shopping center was sitting.
She knocked down outdated, older properties and replaced them with upscale, more modern businesses such as a sushi restaurant, a burger joint, and a trendy apartment building. Her idea was to renovate the city and breathe life into it, to make it more welcoming and appealing to tech startups and other companies.
The city of around 37,000 residents has turned a corner thanks to Diane and her efforts to “beautify” the economy.
Diane is also known for her investments in Delafield. She began buying properties in June of 2015, when Hendricks came across the Delafield Hotel for an unbeatable price; $2.35 million.
Hendricks later bought the be Fitness building for $2.35 million in April of 2016. One month later, in May, Hendricks acquired 12 more properties. Today, Hendricks owns various properties in Delafield, from steakhouses to ballet schools. Look at the map view of Hendricks commercial properties in Lake Country.
The previous mayor of Delafield, Michele DeYoe, had a positive outlook on the Hendricks company. She said, “They’re going to be major players of what Delafield looks like in the next few years or longer. They have a development arm in their company that renovates buildings and really improves them. We welcome them.”
The self-made billionaire mom has left her signature on various communities and cities throughout Wisconsin and has been an influential and prominent GOP donor for countless years.