Billionaire Ken Hendricks suffers fatal fall at Wisconsin home
Ken Hendricks went from a high-school dropout to a self-made billionaire who used his money to help his community, friends said Friday.
“He wanted people to know wherever you came from, you can succeed,” said the Rev. Skerrick Anderson of Higher Ground Christian Center in Beloit. “He said he could’ve moved his business anywhere else but he said because Beloit was so diverse and because it has a negative stereotype put on it, he wanted to prove Beloit could be a special place with everybody.”
Hendricks, 66, died early Friday from injuries suffered in a fall Thursday night at his home just outside Janesville. Police believe it was an accident.
Hendricks was the founder of ABC Supply Co. and several other Beloit-area companies. In 25 years, he built ABC Supply into a major distributor of building materials with $3 billion in annual revenue.
He also built his personal fortune to $3.5 billion, Forbes magazine said earlier this year. He was the third-richest person in Wisconsin, 91st-richest in the country and 249th-richest in the world, Forbes reported.
“He was one of the best entrepreneurs our state has ever seen and one who was more dedicated to Beloit, Rock County and the state of Wisconsin than any entrepreneur,” said former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who knew Hendricks for 25 years. “He said, ‘I know the trials and tribulations of starting and working your way up, I did it, and I want to help other people do it.’ That was classic Ken Hendricks.
He was the type of person that never forgot his bearings, never forgot his past.”
Started company at 21
Hendricks worked with his father on construction projects growing up. At age 21, he started his own roofing company. By 30, he had 500 roofers working for him. In 1982, he and his wife, Diane, launched ABC Supply.
“I don’t think entrepreneurship can be taught. The key to entrepreneurship is to see where there is a lack in the market and fulfill it,” Hendricks said during a January speech to a business development group in Rockford.
Hendricks said then that he built his career on taking care of his employees and his customers. He often sought feedback from employees in his companies.
“I remembered when I was in the business how I was treated as an employee,” he said. “People have ideas that can add to your business. You can’t grow any faster than your people out there that you hired.”
Died at hospital
Hendricks died in surgery at Rockford Memorial Hospital at 4:48 a.m. Friday, Winnebago County Coroner Sue Fiduccia said. The cause of death was blunt head trauma from the fall, she said.
Hendricks and his wife had just arrived home from a party, and he had gone to check on new construction on the second floor of the garage, Rock County Sheriff’s Deputy Craig Keller reported. Hendricks’ wife found him lying unconscious on the concrete garage floor.
“This is an enormous tragedy and a great loss to the family, associates and the community,” ABC Supply officials said in a written statement. “Right now, we are focusing on working through the initial impact of this tragedy with primary focus on the Hendricks family, as we keep them in our hearts, thoughts and prayers.”
Hendricks’ effect on Beloit and the area went beyond his business acumen, said those who worked with him. He sponsored the Beloit International Film Festival and was on the boards of several area groups.
Hendricks loved refurbishing old buildings. Ten years ago, he took a long-vacant building on the former Fairbanks Morse campus on the Beloit riverfront and turned it into ABC Supply’s current 139,000-square-foot headquarters at 1 ABC Parkway. He also redeveloped the former Beloit Corp. campus downtown, the Beloit Mall and other properties.
Beyond Rock County
His reach extended beyond Rock County. He was increasingly active in Winnebago County, buying the massive Essex Wire plant on North Main Street in Rockford in August for $600,000. His development company also owns a manufacturing plant in Loves Park, a shopping center in Rockton, and other empty manufacturing plants in Rockford and South Beloit.
“His companies and what he has done will stand as a monument to him. I think the Beloit Corp. project is one of the most visible projects of his. He not only enhanced the city center with the historic murals and the renovations, but he made sure that a phenomenal piece of Beloit history would be preserved,” Beloit City Manager Larry Arft said. “He would look at something and even though it might not make good business sense right now, he realized the importance of preserving it.”
In recent years, Hendricks had focused on environmentally friendly building methods, such as green roofs and energy-efficient windows and heating/cooling systems.
“I’ve had an amazing life,” he said in January.
He is survived by his wife and seven children.
Register Star correspondent Kathy Ostrander contributed to this report.Staff writer Thomas V. Bona may be contacted at 815-987-1343 or email@example.com.
About Ken Hendricks
Reactions from local leaders on the death of Wisconsin billionaire Ken Hendricks:
“We are shocked at the loss of Ken Hendricks, a good friend to the college and the community. We have lost a wise counselor who shared his vision and foresight with so many of us. As a trustee of Beloit College, Ken was an important contributor to some of our most critical decisions over the past decade. His love of the city extended to this college and he saw here the chance to build this community for the future. We extend the condolences of the whole Beloit College family to his wife, Diane, and his children who were the center of his life.”
— John Burris, president of Beloit College
“My heart goes out to Diane and all of Ken’s family members. Their loss is shared by Beloit, Janesville and the entire state-line area. Ken was a true visionary who wanted the best for his hometown. I respected Ken for his love of old architecture and industrial artifacts. That love drove him to preserve and transform some of our landmark properties in Beloit rather than bulldoze them. He helped turn blight into bright — sources of pride for our community.
“His building renovations, public art work, and support for the Beloit Film Festival have brought statewide recognition to Beloit. He encouraged entrepreneurship in others. Like a rising tide, he lifted all boats.
“Another wonderful thing about Ken was his man-of-the-people nature. He never lost his workingman demeanor. He never forgot his roots. And we will never forget his great contributions to our communities.”
— State Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit
“I am deeply saddened by the news of Ken’s passing. Ken was a great supporter of the Rock County community and will be greatly missed. I have always had a tremendous amount of respect not only for his great work in the community but also for his optimism and dreams for our community’s future. He was a national leader in supporting green energy and green buildings. He was poised to lead the way in Wisconsin with the next generation of energy-efficient building technology. My thoughts and prayers are with Diane and the rest of their family.”
— State Rep. Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville
“My deepest sympathies to Diane and the rest of the Hendricks family on the very sad news of Ken’s untimely passing. I know I share in the Beloit community’s profound shock and sadness at this loss.
“Ken exemplified what a strong work ethic and hard work can do for someone. He worked his way up, but never lost sight of what was important — family and community. Ken was always ready and willing to give back and offer his assistance when it was needed.”
— State Rep. Chuck Benedict, D-Beloit
“I have always admired Ken Hendricks, a man who did so much with his life. He used his talents, intelligence and determination to start a small business and make it big, while always giving back to his community. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
— State Rep. Kim Hixson, D-Whitewater
ABC Supply Co. Inc.
ABC Supply Co. Inc. is the largest wholesale distributor of roofing in the United States and one of the nation’s largest distributors of siding, windows and other select exterior building products.
Headquarters: National Support Center, One ABC Parkway, Beloit, Wis.
Locations: More than 350 stores in 45 states and the District of Columbia.
Workers: 5,800 nationwide.
Products: Most ABC Supply stores offer a wide assortment of exterior building products, including roofing materials, siding, windows and gutters, as well as the tools and equipment professional contractors need. A few branches carry only roofing materials.
Etc.: Hendricks’ development company has several Winnebago County properties, including the GKN Rockford plant — formerly Rockford Powertrain — on Windsor Road in Loves Park, the Rockton Commons shopping center, the former Rogers Ready Mix & Materials property and Besly Products Corp. plant in South Beloit, and a nearly 70,000-square-foot storage building at 1950 Harrison Ave. in Rockford.