Meet The Most Successful Female Entrepreneur In American History

Diane Hendricks had a child at 17, worked as a Playboy Bunny to pay her bills, battled cancer twice and survived the tragic death of her husband before becoming the nation’s most successful businesswoman. She has tripled her net worth to more than $12 billion in the last five years. Next up: fix the country’s schools and infrastructure before we red, white, and blast it.

Written by Maggie McGrath

DJane Hendricks is about to sit down for a video interview when she rushes to her walk-in closet at the last minute. She returns with a small American flag pin pinned to the lapel of her slim-fitting black blazer. “I love this country. I’m just so blessed to have been born in America,” she says. “I’ve never had a door that didn’t open for me. I’ve never thought about being a woman and not in that To be able to do what I do.”

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Her patriotism is evident in her 9,500-square-foot home in southern Wisconsin. In her office is a statuette of Ronald Reagan on horseback and a photo of her with Donald Trump next to a stack of books with titles such as The MAGA Doctrine, Land of Hope and Back in the game. Below hangs a high-quality numbered print, identical to the one that hung in Trump’s White House, showing ten Republican presidents drinking at a fictitious gathering (Dwight Eisenhower appears to be enjoying his Scotch; teetotaler Trump is drinking a Diet Coke). Outside, a life-size bronze of the Plains Indian keeps a watchful eye on three retired Budweiser Clydesdales.

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“Delivering on the American Dream Since 1982” is the slogan of Hendricks’ Beloit, Wisconsin Roofers, ABC Supply and American Pride is one of the company’s seven core values. All company executives are shown a video for country singer Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA”; Greenwood often sings it live at corporate events.

Hendricks believes in the American Dream because she lived it. A teenage mom who once worked as a waitress to pay her bills, she and her husband Ken founded ABC Supply in 1982 and grew it to become the nation’s largest wholesaler of roofing, siding and windows. After Ken’s death in 2007, Hendricks continued the company’s rapid expansion, acquiring competitors and doubling the number of stores to 900. Sales hit a record $15 billion in 2021. “We’re going to be close to $18 billion in sales this year,” Hendricks says. “It’s not a small company anymore. That’s five times what it was when Ken was alive.”

Hendricks, who owns 100% of ABC alongside a real estate development firm and a holding company with interests in 18 companies, is now worth $12.2 billion. That’s triple her net worth from five years ago and more than any other female entrepreneur in US history. For comparison, America’s second richest self-made businesswoman, electronic health record pioneer Judy Faulkner (and also a Wisconsin resident), is worth “only” $6.7 billion.

“The things that she did, I’m not sure Ken could have done,” said Rob Gerbitz, the CEO of Hendricks Commercial Properties, her real estate firm that recently paid $42 million for a hotel in Santa Barbara, California. Paid for and built a $40 million minor league ballpark in Beloit.

At 75, Hendricks is leaning towards her success. She wants to influence everything from national politics and job creation to cancer research and public school reform. “Everyone knows I’m a conservative,” said Hendricks, who has donated more than $40 million since 1992 for Republican candidates. These include gifts of over $5 million to former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and $50,000 to Scott Pruitt, Trump’s notorious EPA administrator, so he can pay his legal fees, which stem from a series of ethics scandals arise. Hendricks believes one of the biggest problems companies face today is that not enough people appreciate their work. “A job used to be a gift. You were proud,” she muses.

She takes that feeling to heart. “I’m so damn old and I still go to work because I can still think. I feel like I’m adding meaning,” says Hendricks, who wakes up at 5 a.m. and is out the door by 7 every weekday.

This work ethic was born on her family’s dairy farm in Osseo, Wisconsin, a rural town southeast of Eau Claire of just under 1,800 people. The fourth of nine girls, Hendricks wasn’t allowed to milk cows or drive tractors (“men’s work,” according to her father), but she did have many chores, including looking after her younger sisters. By the age of 10, Hendricks knew she wanted more than a farming life. “I don’t want to become a farmer and I don’t want to marry a farmer either,” she recalls. She wanted to wear a blue suit and work in the city—Minneapolis, the closest metropolis to where she lived.

Those plans were derailed in 1964 At 17 she became pregnant and had to drop out of school. She married her father and moved nearly 200 miles away to Janesville, Wisconsin; The couple divorced three years later. The new single mom landed a job as a bunny at the local Playboy club. “You gotta do what you gotta do,” Hendricks says of that time.

She was soon selling properties throughout southern Wisconsin. She also started selling custom homes. At the age of 22, she met a roofer named Ken Hendricks. They married in 1976. The newlyweds bought 200 old houses in three years, repaired them and began renting them out to college students. “I cleaned a lot of toilets,” she recalls.

In 1982, they mortgaged everything they owned and took out a $900,000 bank loan to buy two ailing hardware stores. Their idea was to buy direct from manufacturers and then sell to contractors and project developers like Ken. The secret ingredient was providing an outrageous level of customer service in a notoriously unfriendly industry. Within five years, ABC had 50 stores and approximately $140 million in sales.

The company had sales of $1 billion in 1998, the same year the Hendricks recruited David Luck, a Chicago Bridgestone executive, to be ABC’s president. With Luck at the helm, the couple wanted to add new projects. “She and my father had a passion for fixing failing businesses, so they bought a lot out of bankruptcy and foreclosure,” says Konya Hendricks-Schuh, one of her seven children (including four stepchildren).

Then the roof literally collapsed. On December 21, 2007, Ken returned home from a business dinner to check on a new roof over the garage. He flunked and died later that night in surgery.

Mall people accepted Hendricks would go out of business. A competitor offered to buy the company. “They just thought that since I’m a woman, I’d sell them,” says Hendricks. Instead, she asked Luck to become CEO and appointed herself chair. It was a tough time, and not just because she lost her 40-year-old husband. Sales fell 7% between 2006 and 2009 as the housing market collapsed. For the first time, ABC closed stores.

Amid the turmoil, however, Hendricks saw an opportunity. Taking advantage of clearance prices, she orchestrated ABC’s largest acquisition, buying rival Bradco in 2010 in a $1.6 billion (sales) deal. Six years later, she paid $674 million for Chicago-based builders’ merchant L&W Supply. To fund the first deal, she gave 40% of her ABC stake to a financier on the condition that she could buy it back within five years. She did this in less than four. “I still get chills now,” she says. “Because I felt like I risked the company that my kids were supposed to be running. It’s not a company that will ever be for sale.”

In the years since, Hendricks has ensured that her legacy extends far beyond a roofing business. On a humid August afternoon, Hendricks stands in front of a spectacular 20-by-30-foot sculpture of an American flag at the entrance to one of her favorite projects: Beloit’s new Ironworks campus. Since Ken’s death, she has spent $85 million to convert what was once an iron factory (the flag is made from 230 recovered machine samples) into a gleaming complex that will house the local YMCA, the Beloit Chamber of Commerce and 46 small Companies with 1,800 employees are accommodated.

Hendricks has a lot on his plate. A double cancer survivor—she had uterine cancer at 33 and breast cancer at 69—she chairs NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes, which uses nuclear medicine and radioisotopes to diagnose and treat certain forms of cancer and heart disease. She’s already poured $550 million into the $10 million company, but she’s not giving up. After seeing that less than 20% of Beloit teens scored “proficiently” on Wisconsin state reading tests, she helped fund a charter school in the city. Lincoln Academy opened last year. She is also expanding her boutique hotel chain, moving from Beloit to Indiana, Idaho and California.

The only true The obstacle is time. “It’s the most frustrating part of getting older,” she says. “Gosh, there’s still so much – so much to do.”


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