Building Supply Billionaire Kenneth Hendricks, 66

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 22, 2007

Kenneth A. Hendricks, 66, a high school dropout who transformed three modest Wisconsin construction goods businesses into ABC Supply, the largest provider of roofing and siding materials to contractors in the United States, died Dec. 21 after falling from a construction site at his home in Afton, Wis.

The Winnebago County, Ill., coroner said the cause of death was blunt trauma to the head because of the fall, which occurred while Mr. Hendricks was checking on construction repairs. He was pronounced dead at Rockford Memorial Hospital in Illinois.

Mr. Hendricks, who had a net worth of more than $2.6 billion, was 91st this year on the Forbes magazine's list of 400 richest Americans.

The Beloit, Wis.-based American Builders and Contractors Supply, which he started in 1982 after buying three independent supply centers, has $3 billion in sales, more than 6,000 employees and 400 stores offering siding, windows, gutters and other exterior building products, according to Forbes.

The son of a roofer, Mr. Hendricks made his initial fortune in the 1970s as a roofing contractor throughout many states while most of his competition remained local or regional. He repeated the business model with roofing supply distribution, having grown weary of lackluster service from suppliers he had been using.

He bought failing roofing supply businesses and turned them profitable, often going to unusual lengths to enforce his obsession with efficiency.

One story noted how he visited store managers and set up two boxes -- one marked budget, the other expenditures -- and used Monopoly money to show them the basics of budget versus expenditures. But it was no game. Their annual salary depended on the results.

His strict business approach grew from his experiences as a roofer.

"Kmart will sell you roofing supplies," he told the business publication Inc. in 1986. "But if you're a small contractor like I was, you can spend half your morning waiting in line for a salesclerk who knows more about lawn furniture than about vinyl siding. There goes your job time, your profit, the whole deal."

Kenneth Albert Hendricks was born Sept. 8, 1941, in Janesville, Wis. He showed organizational talents by age 8, when he contracted out his lawn-mowing services when overbooked.

Within a few years, he once said, he impressed his taciturn father by single-handedly installing natural gas piping at a house when his father left the job for an errand. On the next job, his father reluctantly asked his advice.

He won state championships as a high school sprinter but quit school after getting his future first wife, Sandra Kislia, pregnant. After their divorce, he married Diane Fox in 1975.

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