How Wisconsin’s 7 billionaires made their fortunes

How Wisconsin’s 7 Billionaire’s Made Their Fortunes

Photo courtesy of Tinnaporn Sathapornnanont via Shutterstock

By Ellery Weil

February 21, 2024

As of the start of 2024, Wisconsin is home to seven billionaires, and their fortunes range from “old money” to brand-new empires. How did they do it? Let’s take a look at Wisconsin’s wealthiest, and how they got to where they are today:

John Menard, Jr.

The richest person in Wisconsin and, according to Forbes’ 400 list, the 33rd richest person in the United States, you may have heard of John Menard Jr.’s name before. This Eau Claire resident, whose net worth stands at over $20 billion, is the founder of Menards, the popular home improvement store with outlets stretching as far west as Wyoming and east into Ohio.

Today, Menards is a competitor with giants like Home Depot and Lowe’s, and it’s no wonder — John Menard Jr. began working in construction in 1958, before starting Menards, making him an expert in his field before he ever made his fortune. Today, the 84-year-old father of six and auto racing fan is still involved in the business he built, and is famous for asking all employees to give their jobs their full attention — even top executives need to clock in every morning!

Diane Hendricks

The commonly-heard phrase may be “self-made man,” but Diane Hendricks is a self-made woman — in fact, she’s the richest self-made woman in the United States. Hendricks is a co-founder of ABC Supply, a roofing and construction firm that’s grown to be one of the largest wholesale distributors of windows, roofing materials, and other building supplies in the country.

Hendricks, a former realtor, founded the business alongside her husband, Ken, a roofer, back in 1982. Since Ken’s passing in 2007, Diane has chaired the business on her own. A high school graduate, Hendricks has gone from being one of nine sisters on a rural Wisconsin dairy farm to the 76-year-old Afton resident and mother of seven’s current position as company chair and 86th-wealthiest person in the world in 2024.

Judy Faulkner

For another Wisconsin lady who built a fortune from the ground up, the story of Judy Faulkner’s fortune of over $7 billion is an Epic tale — literally! This 80-year-old Madison resident and mother of three is the founder of Epic Systems, a medical records software firm she founded in a Madison basement in 1979 after receiving her master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin in Computer Science. Today, Epic is used by top medical systems around the country, and its Verona “Intergalactic Headquarters” combines top-of-the-line research and tech with buildings inspired by fairytales, science fiction, and more, with a working onsite farm.

A keen philanthropist, Faulkner is one Wisconsin billionaire who doesn’t intend to stay wealthy — in 2015, she signed The Giving Pledge, which is a commitment to give 99% of her assets to charity.

James Cargill, II

Ever seen “Succession” and been curious about family fortunes? It’s a subject James Cargill, II knows well. This 70-year-old father of two and Birchwood resident is one of twelve living heirs to the food and agribusiness company Cargill, the largest privately-held company in the United States. The Cargill fortune dates back to 1865, when William Wallace Cargill, great-grandfather of James Cargill II, set up shop in a grain warehouse at the end of a railroad line in Iowa.

Today, Cargill operates around the world, with a headquarters in Minnesota. James Cargill II is only one of the members of the Cargill family to share ownership of the company, but is the only one based in Wisconsin.

Helen Johnson-Leipold, S. Curtis Johnson, and H. Fisk Johnson

The family that sticks together … stays rich together? Three of Wisconsin’s seven billionaires aren’t just close — they’re siblings! Helen Johnson-Leipold, S. Curtis Johnson, and H. Fisk Johson, a trio of Wisconsinites in their mid-60s, are joint heirs to the cleaning-products company SC Johnson, makers of Windex, Pledge, Drano, and other popular cleaning products.

Today, the siblings have a troubled relationship, particularly following S. Curtis Johnson’s arrest for assault on a minor and their sister Winnie Johnson-Marquart distancing herself from the family business, though Helen, current Chair of the Johnson Financial Group, also holds other business interests outside SC Johnson, including serving as CEO of Johnson athletics.

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.How Wisconsin’s 7 billionaires made their fortunesHow Wisconsin’s 7 billionaires made their fortunes

Author

  • Ellery Weil

    Ellery Weil is a historian and writer who holds degrees from the University of Michigan and University College London. In her spare time, she likes cooking, theater, and petting dogs she meets on the street.

CATEGORIES: COMMUNITY | LOCAL PEOPLE

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