EDITOR’S NOTE: On the occasion of the dedication of the Ken Hendricks Memorial Bridge, Diane Hendricks answered questions about her husband’s passions and their shared vision of business and civic engagement.
How do you think Ken would view this community recognition, naming a key span connecting the city the “Ken Hendricks Memorial Bridge?”
“Ken would be so very proud. This bridge represents one of his greatest attributes, which was his ability to connect people to places, work to reward and dreams to reality. This beautiful bridge is truly symbolic of Ken’s connection to the community he loved so much.”
Ken is considered an entrepreneurial genius, an artist in the creative sense of business strategies. You’ve been the other half and full partner in building that success. What’s the secret?
“Ken truly was the epitome of an entrepreneur. He found excitement and pleasure in opening doors and meeting new people. He looked for opportunities instead of waiting for them to find him. Added to this was his desire to share his knowledge and ability to anyone that exhibited an interest in a new venture or idea. But what really set Ken apart was his determination to ‘act’ upon these opportunities as they presented themselves to him. Hard work and determination were Ken’s friends and quitting was never an option.”
Thirty years ago, when the two of you started ABC Supply Co., Inc., did you ever envision all this could follow?
“When Ken and I started ABC in 1982, we had been in various businesses together for over 15 years. Not that we were business ‘gurus’ by any means, but we understood our industry, its strengths and its weaknesses, and we truly had developed a serious business plan before we opened our first ABC center. So is it a surprise that we have distribution centers all over the US? No, it was our plan. Was it easy? Heck no!”
The company has been recognized multiple times as one of the best places to work in America. What’s the formula for building the right team, then keeping the best associates happy, motivated and productive?
“ABC has been recognized for six consecutive years with the Gallup Award. We have always taken pride in providing our associates with a safe and great work environment. In addition we encourage our associates to take advantage of the educational tools and programs that are available for self growth. Last but not least, we built our company on seven core values that we not only recognize but live by. Respect, Opportunity, Work hard – have fun, Entrepreneurial Spirit, Family, Give Back, and American Pride.”
As the successes mounted, both Ken and you seemed fully committed to the process of revitalizing Beloit, in particular, and the region. In an era when successful and wealthy people are apt to be treated as political punching bags, what made the two of you so eager to put your resources to work in community causes?
“Beloit gave us an opportunity in 1968. Local banks, the City of Beloit, local Institutions and businesses were all vital components in helping Ken and I establish our businesses here. I do not believe that our passion to stay active in our community or to be concerned over the civic and economic conditions is ‘unusual.’ I believe that it is everyone’s responsibility to give back to the communities that helped them establish their success or happiness at the level of their ability. And for Ken and I that means building, renovating, restoring, and business and job creation.”
Ken seemed to have a real soft spot for working men and women, everyday laborers. And he was very interested in vocational education and training. Where did that come from?
“Ken’s life revolved around blue collar work ethics instilled in him by his father at a very early age. ‘He never discounted the value of hard work.’ Furthermore, he understood that feeling of accomplishment and pride in earning a paycheck. Bringing pride back to blue collar professionals was a goal that Ken pursued his whole life including putting vocational/technical training and education back into our schools.”
These days, when so many are out of work, the old skill sets of laborers are less in demand and there’s so much uncertainty with the economy. What’s your advice to young people trying to find their career direction, or, perhaps, dreaming of becoming an entrepreneur?
“There is entrepreneurial spirit in all of us. There is opportunity in spite of the economy, search out those opportunities and challenges rather than make excuses. Follow your heart and your dreams to succeed because we have freedom here in the USA to be as successful as we want to strive to be.”
Ken, you and your family have been responsible for so many business and civic initiatives in the area, with more ongoing from the Eclipse Center improvements to plans in the former Wagner’s block downtown. When you dream, what more do you want to see accomplished here?
“I would like to see an educational system that provides a broad spectrum of career counseling and then choices providing all of our children with the skill sets that enable them to be productive and responsible citizens. They are our future.
“And in the big “BIG” picture, I would like to be proud of my community, not just the bricks and mortar, but the individuals that work and reside in those buildings today and in the future.”
Finally, in these difficult economic times, if Ken could speak to the people of Beloit and the region, what do you think he’d want to tell them?
“We live in the greatest nation in the world. Your future is up to you. Our forefathers came here with nothing but ‘freedom.’ Opportunity still exists, cherish it, and leave this world a better place.”