Diane Hendricks: Blue Collar Pride

Blue Collar Pride: Diane Hendricks’ Rise From Teen Mom To Billionaire Entrepreneur

OCT 21, 2017 @ 08:30 AM

Jennifer Wang , FORBES STAFF

As one of nine daughters born to Wisconsin dairy farmers, Diane Hendricks loved her all- American upbringing, but always yearned for more. “I had a beautiful life, living on the farm. Nice house, big square white house,” the roofing queen recalls to Forbes. “But… I always wanted to go to the city. I wanted to wear a suit.”

Hendricks ended up settling down in a small town — she lives outside of Beloit, Wisconsin — but she’s certainly made it to the big leagues. With her husband Kenneth Hendricks, she built ABC Supply, the largest wholesale roofing distributor in the nation. The privately-owned firm hauled in $7.2 billion in sales last year, giving Hendricks a net worth of $4.9 billion and a ranking of #122 on the 2017 Forbes 400 list. She is the second richest self-made woman in the country after Marian Ilitch of Detroit.

Her path to this point might surprise some people….

… Hendricks has since taken on new challenges — revitalizing Beloit by renovating vacant factories and storefronts into offices and community centers while also helping bring technical education back to local high schools. “The workforce has been pretty well eliminated when it comes to manufacturing, construction, all of the trades. Those aren’t being taught in our schools anymore, they haven’t for probably 30 years,” laments Hendricks. “Our workforce in our nation has never been lower. It is very difficult to hire qualified tradesmen.”

To fill the skills gap, the mother of 7 (including 4 stepchildren) started working with schools in the area around five years ago, pitching in funding for an auto mechanic shop at Beloit Memorial High. She also helped launch a construction program in which students learn the academic side of construction in a classroom, then participate in demolishing, rebuilding and selling a new home. Hendricks donates the labor — staffers from her contracting firm, Corporate Contractors Inc., show the teenagers the ins and outs of the trade like plumbing and electrical work — but the kids are in charge of keeping the project on budget. Proceeds from selling the house go back to Beloit Memorial.

Hendricks also hires student interns at Corporate Contractors and encourages other companies to do the same. In February 2017, she opened a career center for middle and high schoolers at Ironworks, a former foundry complex she repurposed to house a business incubator and tech startups.