The Most Successful Female Entrepreneur In American History

Introducing to you, the most successful female entrepreneur, in American History (read other female leaders posts). Diane Hendricks champions the American Dream as a testament to her own life journey. Starting as a teen mom who once worked as a waitress to make ends meet, she, along with her husband Ken, co-founded ABC Supply in 1982. Through their efforts, the company burgeoned into the nation’s largest wholesale distributor of roofing, siding, and windows. Following Ken’s passing in 2007, Hendricks led the business through a rapid expansion, acquiring competitors and more than doubling its store count to reach an impressive 900. By 2021, the company’s revenue soared to a record $15 billion. Looking ahead, Hendricks confidently projects:

“We’ll achieve close to $18 billion this year in sales. It’s no longer a small company; it’s five times the size it was when Ken was at the helm.

-Diane Hendricks

Most Successful Female Entrepreneur, Diane Hendricks,
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A holding company, with interests in 18 different businesses, now boasts a staggering valuation of $12.2 billion, a threefold increase in net worth over just the past five years. This places its owner at the pinnacle of female entrepreneurs in U.S. history, surpassing even the second-richest self-made businesswoman, Judy Faulkner, renowned for pioneering electronic medical records, whose worth stands at a notable but comparatively modest $6.7 billion.

At 75 years old, the owner, who has navigated this meteoric rise, is actively embracing her success. With a diverse portfolio, including a real estate firm that recently invested $42 million in a Santa Barbara hotel and erected a $40 million minor league baseball stadium in Beloit, she demonstrates a prowess that even those who have worked closely with her acknowledge. Rob Gerbitz, the CEO of Hendricks Commercial Properties, comments, “The things she’s done, I’m not sure Ken could have done.”

In addition to her business acumen, the owner, known for her conservative stance, has also been a significant player in political contributions, having donated over $40 million since 1992 to Republican candidates. Her interests extend beyond the business realm, as she seeks to influence national politics, job creation, cancer research, and public school reform.

Most Successful Female Entrepreneur, Diane Hendricks,
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The Early Days

Becoming the most successful female entrepreneur has been grounded in a ‘role your sleeves up’ method. Despite her substantial success, she remains grounded in a work ethic instilled during her upbringing on a dairy farm in Osseo, Wisconsin. As the fourth of nine sisters, she navigated chores and responsibilities, harbouring aspirations beyond the agricultural life. Rejecting traditional gender roles, she aspired to a blue suit and a city career, ultimately shaping her remarkable journey from a rural town of 1,800 to the forefront of American entrepreneurial success.

Her aspirations took an unexpected turn in 1964 when, at the age of 17, she became pregnant, compelling her to abandon her educational pursuits. Opting for marriage with the father, she relocated nearly 200 miles away to Janesville, Wisconsin, only to find herself divorced three years later. As a newly single mother, she took on a job as a Bunny at the local Playboy Club, acknowledging the necessity of making ends meet during that challenging period.

Her trajectory shifted once more as she ventured into real estate across southern Wisconsin. Simultaneously, she delved into selling custom homes, a venture that led her to cross paths with a roofing contractor named Ken Hendricks at the age of 22. Their union in 1976 marked the beginning of a dynamic partnership. Over the following three years, the couple acquired and refurbished 200 old homes, transforming them into rental properties catering to college students. Reflecting on those early days, she humorously recalls,

“I cleaned a lot of toilets.”

-Diane Hendricks

Most Successful Female Entrepreneur, Diane Hendricks,
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In 1982, they staked their entire assets and secured a $900,000 bank loan to acquire two struggling building supply stores. Their innovative approach involved direct sourcing from manufacturers, catering to contractors and project builders like Ken, all while revolutionizing customer service in an industry known for its lack of friendliness. Within a swift five years, ABC burgeoned to 50 stores, boasting around $140 million in sales.

By 1998, the company achieved the remarkable milestone of $1 billion in sales. Concurrently, they enlisted the expertise of David Luck, a former Bridgestone executive, as ABC’s president. With Luck at the helm, the Hendrickses’ passion for rescuing failing companies led to numerous acquisitions, even amidst industry challenges. Despite a decline in sales between 2006 and 2009 due to the real estate market collapse, Hendricks refused to bow out, taking on the role of chairwoman and appointing Luck as CEO following the tragic loss of her husband, Ken, in 2007.

During this tumultuous period, Hendricks saw opportunity in adversity. Seizing fire-sale prices, she orchestrated ABC’s largest acquisition, absorbing $1.6 billion rival Bradco in 2010. Later, in 2016, she invested $674 million to acquire Chicago-based building materials distributor L&W Supply. Despite relinquishing 40% of her ABC stake to secure funding, she managed to reclaim it in less than four years. Reflecting on the risk, she remarks,

I still get shivers right now, because I felt that I had risked the company that I wanted my children to run. It’s not a company that’s ever going to be for sale.

-Diane Hendricks

Most Successful Female Entrepreneur, Diane Hendricks,
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Legacy & Health

Beyond the roofing business, Hendricks has curated a diverse legacy. Her $85 million redevelopment of Beloit’s Ironworks Campus, a former iron factory, includes a striking 20-by-30-foot sculpture of an American flag and houses the local YMCA, Beloit’s Chamber of Commerce, and 46 small businesses, providing employment for 1,800 individuals.

With health challenges as a two-time cancer survivor, Hendricks chairs NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes, contributing $550 million to advance nuclear medicine’s role in detecting and treating certain cancers and heart diseases. She’s also championing education, funding a charter school in Beloit to address low proficiency rates in state reading tests. Expanding her reach, she’s venturing into boutique hotels, extending from Beloit to Indiana, Idaho, and California.

The only impediment she faces is time, a frustration that comes with aging. Yet, undeterred, she reflects, “Golly, there’s still so much—so much to do.” S