Friday, January 04, 2008

Ken Hendricks, Beloit, WI and the world

I've carried an idea around with me for most of 30 years, that I first read in an interview with Ken Hendricks of Beloit.

Ken's business was large and rapidly growing back then. It still is. But Ken himself was well grounded and a straight talker. The point I remember from his interview is that he said he could walk into any hardware store in the country, take one single thing off a shelf, and make a national business out of it.

Ken made billions of dollars with the formula.

I believe that idea is especially true for startups and emerging enterprises, though the kind of scale that Mr. Hendricks worked at is not my focus.

My focus is on the idea that you can create sustainable new enterprises within very small niches by becoming the most knowledgeable about one specific thing in that niche.

Then, network and market nationally from the earliest stages, even pre-launch. In an economy this big, you can usually aggregate a big enough audience to turn the lights on and catch some tailwind.

This is now called, 'Long Tail' stuff after a great book by Chris Anderson. Ken Hendricks, pointed me there 30 years ago, and it still works by whatever name you call it.

When Ken was named Inc. Magazine's Entrepreneur of the Year for 2006, there was a great story along with the honor. Ken was a high school dropout who became a billionaire. He has done countless wonderful things for his home-town area of Beloit, Wisconsin.

For those of us who live in Beloit, or pass through often, we know how beautiful that city has become thanks to Ken. The photo above is of one the murals Ken was instrumental in creating for Beloit's waterfront along the Rock River.

Someone said in a newspaper interview, "He didn't build new buildings, he took old buildings and made them into something beautiful."

Ken changed a national industry, working from the region I live in. He did it by focusing. Taking one step at a time. Not taking himself too seriously. Marketing his highly focused ideas nationally from the outset of his enterprises.

Ken died recently from a fall at a construction site at his home.

It is a sad tragedy for his family and friends. Ken's passing is a great loss to all of us in the region.

However, for entrepreneurs everywhere, Ken leaves a legacy that you can take to the bank. In your enterprise life, focus on being great at one specific thing and then do your best every day.

Newspaper article about Ken's life and times. Wisconsin State Journal

"Create Jobs, Eliminate Waste, Preserve Value." Inc. Magazine article about Ken, after naming him Entrepreneur of the Year for 2006

"10 Questions for Ken Hendricks", from an Inc. sidebar story. My favorite is this:

(Inc.) "What is the most overrated skill for an entrepreneur?"

(Ken) "The most overrated skill is skill. Luck is more important. The entrepreneur gets credit for being this genius, when really he was just at the right place at the right time."

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