MADISON – Ken Hendricks, who went from high-school dropout to one of the wealthiest people in the United States, will receive the third annual “Seize the Day” award at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee.  To register for the June 8-9 conference, including the June 9 awards luncheon where Hendricks will speak about his experiences as an entrepreneur, visit: 

After growing up in the roofing and siding business, Hendricks understood the need for quality wholesale distribution for contractors. In 1982, Hendricks and his wife, Diane, started American Builders & Contractors Supply Co., better known today as ABC Supply. The company has grown from its original three centers to more than 303 locations in 48 states, with sales expected to reach $3 billion this year.

Hendricks overcame financial adversity and skepticism about his business plan to build ABC Supply, which is among the largest closely held companies in Wisconsin. In November 2005, Forbes magazine ranked ABC Supply 145th on its list of America’s largest private companies. It has nearly 5,000 employees.

As Northwest Quarterly reported in its spring edition, Hendricks has “built himself an empire more wealthy than Oprah’s.” In September 2005, Forbes ranked Hendricks 207th on its list of the 400 richest Americans based on his estimated net worth of $1.5 billion.

Hendricks attributes most of his success to his humble beginnings as a roofer, which reinforced the blue-collar work ethic instilled in him by his parents. ABC Supply is known today for its family atmosphere, its excellent customer relations, and for giving back to the community in Beloit.

The “Seize the Day” award is given by the Wisconsin Technology Council and the Wisconsin Innovation Network to honor entrepreneurial leaders who have been crucial to the development of the state’s economy. The “Seize the Day” award is not given for technical innovation but for innovative leadership – the ability to take hold of business opportunities and transform them into successes.

Candidates for the award will have demonstrated:
Vision — Recognizing opportunities where others do not.

Courage — Vigorous, dedicated pursuit of opportunities in the face of risk and skepticism.

Adaptability — Rapid and repeated reinvention in response to changing markets.

Persistence — Maintaining optimism and effort in the wake of setbacks.

Resourcefulness — Overcoming obstacles and finding ways to fund growth.

“Ken Hendricks meets all of those criteria in spades,” Tech Council President Tom Still said. “He’s the most down-to-earth billionaire you would ever hope to meet, and his story should be inspiring to entrepreneurs across Wisconsin – and beyond.”

In 1971, Hendricks’ Janesville bank called in his real-estate loans due to objections to one of his property purchases, an old factory to be rehabilitated. Faced with financial disaster, Hendricks sought alternative financing, eventually convincing Beloit State Bank to extend him credit.

“When the Janesville banks turned him down, it was a major blow and became a defining moment in his life,” daughter Kim Hendricks recalled. “That’s partly why my dad is so passionate to this day about helping small businesses get started. He truly finds great joy in starting businesses and creating jobs. He’s a big believer in the American Dream.”

Hendricks was selected from a group of nominees by the leadership of the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference. The award comes with a unique art piece, commissioned and sponsored by United States Patent Services, a Wisconsin firm specializing in the recognition of innovation. Past winners were:

Donald J. Weber, president of Logistics Health, Inc., won the inaugural 2004 award. Since founding LHI (as National Health Screening) in 1987, Weber has grown the company to more than 200 employees, with plans to reach 500 in the next few years. Weber’s rags-to-riches story included losing his house when one of his earlier companies failed. In 1990, Logistics Health redirected its focus to serving the medical readiness needs of various government agencies. In response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Logistics Health expanded into bioterrorism training, fulfillment, and scheduling services.

Robert F. “Bob” Cervenka, who founded Phillips Plastics 40 years ago, received the 2005 “Seize the Day” award. Cervenka guided Phillips’ growth to a $220-million company with 14 Wisconsin facilities and 1,500 employees, despite early setbacks that left him wondering if the next payroll could be met.  Over the years, Cervenka maintained a strong vision for Phillips Plastics in the face of many market obstacles and transitions, all the while adapting to those changes and never giving up hope, even when others might have done so.