Diane Smith was born into a Wisconsin dairy farming family in 1947. She was one of nine children – all girls. When she was nine the family moved to a several hundred acre farm in Osseo, Wisconsin. Mary wanted to spend her time outside and had no qualms about working on the farm – but that wasn’t an option. Her father believed that females were not meant to do farm work – common thinking for the times. She may not have agreed, but she accepted that’s the way it would be.
While a student at Osseo-Fairchild High School, she became pregnant by her first love – she was 17. She got married and had the baby – it was what her parents thought was the right thing. She and her husband moved to Janesville, WI where he worked for Chrysler Motors. Diane went to work for Parker Pen. It didn’t take her long to realize that she had no interest in being a factory worker. Within three months she began selling new construction.
She began to study to become a real estate broker, even though her job didn’t require her to be licensed. Part of what drove her was a determination to be self-sufficient – to be able to support herself and her son. Once she turned twenty-one, she filed for and received a divorce.
She met Ken Hendricks, a roofing contractor, when he phoned her in an effort to arrange a date with her for a friend of his. That call led to several others as they learned more about each other – realizing that they had a great deal in common. The blind date never happened – but a relationship between Diane and Ken did. They were married in 1975.
Prior to that, they had begun to work together, buying, rehabbing and selling homes in Beloit, WI. Ken wanted to become a distributor. In 1982 they pooled their savings, drew on the equity in their homes and used a line of credit to buy three roofing stores. That was the beginning of American Builders and Contractors Supply Co. Diane and Ken proved to be a dynamic business team, leading ABC Supply Co. to tremendous success.
Ken and Diane were also a dynamic couple – together they had seven children. Then tragedy struck. Ken and Diane were having extensive remodeling done at their home. One evening, while checking on the progress of that project, Ken fell through a poorly marked opening in the roof and died from his injuries.
Diane was devastated. A company approached her in an effort to buy the company, assuming they could get a very favorable deal in the face of Ken’s untimely death. Proving her business prowess, her determination and her business smarts, Diane flipped the script and bought the suitor. She had resolved to continue the business she and Ken had built.
Today, ABC Supply Co. has over 600 stores in the United States with revenue estimated by Forbes to be $5.3 billion, making it America’s 74th largest privately owned company. ABC Supply has been the recipient of the Gallup Great Workplace Award the last five consecutive years, which honors the most engaged and productive workforces in the world. These are clearly powerful results – results which can be traced to the efforts of a fearless brand – Diane Hendricks
Fearless Brands combine talent with determination
Diane Hendricks was determined to become self-sufficient from a very young age. As a child, she was prohibited from doing work on the family farm based on accepted norms. As an adult, she refused to let those beliefs hold her back. Diane Smith Hendricks achieved unparalleled success in an industry predominantly run by men. Her intelligence, experience and determination allowed her to break through barriers – real or perceived.
ABC Supply’s success has been achieved through organic growth and key business acquisitions. A cornerstone of that success is the list of core values developed by Diane. Adhering to these values is one key reason that ABC Supply has won the Gallup Award so often. In addition to ABC Supply, Diane heads the Hendricks Holding Company, comprised of some 30 companies whose business includes insurance, manufacturing and logistics to name a few.
Some might be surprised that Diane Hendricks in number one on Forbe’s list of America’s Richest self-made women, surpassing such notables as Oprah Winfrey and Meg Whitman. What doesn’t surprise anyone that knows her is that Diane Hendricks is very active in civic and philanthropic endeavors, as well as a variety of community organizations.
There is much to learn from Diane Hendricks, as evidenced by the results she’s realized as a fearless brand.
Don’t be limited by societal norms – It is clear that Diane Hendricks has succeeded in spite of the restrictive beliefs common during her childhood. Not only did she shatter any constraints, she did so in a male dominated industry. The simple lesson here is be true to yourself. Follow your aspirations – don’t be the victim of subjective barriers. Blaze your own path.
Be determined – Hendricks faced challenges throughout her life – challenges which could have prompted her to give up, to throw in the towel. She refused to quit. When Ken died, she faced what might be her greatest challenge. Wrapped in grief and shock, she could have taken the easy route and sold to that suitor. She determined to continue her dreams. Determination is a mark of a fearless brand.
Pass it on – Another mark of fearless brands is their propensity to be positive contributors in their community and beyond. Whether what you pass on is monetary, opportunity, environment or knowledge, share the fruits of your efforts. Don’t think of this act as a debt or an obligation. Know that it is an opportunity to add value to others – to add good to the world.
Chances are you’ve not heard of Diane Hendricks. Widespread fame is not essential to being a fearless brand. The success she’s realized – the results of the Diane Hendricks brand – can be replicated by everyone, regardless of celebrity or extreme wealth. Achieving the success of your dreams, while not easy, is simple. Find your purpose, use your skills, blaze your own path, be determined and pass it on.