Diane Hendricks didn’t grow up on the inherited wealth of celebrities or political leaders. Instead, she spent her childhood on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, where she learned a work ethic that would later help her build a business empire.
Last week, Hendricks, who has a net worth of $11.6 billion, topped Forbes’ list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women for the fifth consecutive year. Her fortune largely depends on ABC Supply, a construction materials company she built with her late husband in 1982. She’s currently the company’s chairwoman.
In 2017, Hendricks told Forbes that watching her parents run the farm 24/7 established her work ethic, which became important from an early age: She got pregnant at age 17 and had to finish her senior year of high school while living at home.
At age 21, she filed for divorce from her high school sweetheart. As a single mother, she got by on a series of odd jobs in offices rather than picking a single career and single-mindedly pursuing success before eventually pursuing a real estate license.
“Motherhood got in the way real quick, and I grew up fast,” Hendricks said. “It didn’t stop me from wanting to reach my dream. I became even more focused on what I wanted to achieve.”
Hendricks said that some of her dreams were simple, like moving to a city and wearing a suit to work every day. In the 1970s, she met roofer Ken Hendricks and got married to him. This changed her plans. Together, they used their skills to start ABC Supply in Beloit, Wisconsin.
By 1994, the business had 100 places to do business. Forbes says that after four years, it made more than $1 billion in sales for the first time.
Since her husband died in 2007, Hendricks has been in charge of ABC Supply on her own. Forbes says that the company has more than 840 locations and is the 23rd largest private company in the United States. On its website, ABC Supply says that in the last five years, it has acquired 18 other companies. This shows that it is the market leader.
Not everyone is happy about the success. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said that Hendricks “didn’t pay a dime in state income tax from 2012 to 2014,” which was the first year she was at the top of the forbearance-out-of-states list. She didn’t owe any state taxes in 2010, the news source said.
That isn’t always against the law. Scott Bianchini, who is in charge of ABC Supply’s taxes, told CNBC Make It that the company changed from a C-corp to an S-corp during those years. Under Wisconsin state law, corporations can apply to be S-corps on the federal level and C-corps on the state level. This means that ABC Supply could choose out-of-state tax-option status, which could include any checks made out from the company to Hendricks if all of its federal taxes were paid.
Hendricks’ main office is still in Beloit, which has less than 37,000 people. Forbes says that she has spent millions of dollars on projects in the state to fix up abandoned buildings and bring new businesses there.
Hendricks opened a local career center in 2017. The center has workshops where middle and high school students can learn skills like coding and building. She told Forbes that the goal of the program is to show teens “what a job is worth.”
She said, “The kids are like, ‘Wow, is that how a welder works?'” “They can go to trade school and learn how to be a welder, which pays $50,000 a year. Those jobs are good. Excellent work.”