Lots of companies have used "Back to the Future" as a theme, but in the case of ABC Supply Co.'s national meeting, rarely has the phrase been more appropriate.

ABC, the No. 3 company on last year's ProSales 100--and likely to rise to No. 2 this year--used its meeting last month to declare a core purpose and vision that it has embraced for decades but never needed to write down while Ken Hendricks was CEO.

"When Ken was alive, he'd speak almost exclusively about values," Hendricks' successor as CEO, David Luck, told ProSales recently. "When Ken died, we had all understood these things. And now we've formally documented them."

Hendricks founded ABC in 1982 and built it to a company that, by the end of 2008, counted more than 350 branches nationwide and nearly $2.9 billion in annual sales. ABC sells primarily to contractors and describes itself as a wholesale distributor of roofing, siding, and windows.

But 2008 wasn't an easy year for the Beloit, Wis.-based operation. Hendricks died just before Christmas 2007 from a fall at a construction site at his home, and the surviving Hendricks family members as well as the rest of ABC Supply had to regroup. One part of that process involved promoting Luck, the company's president and COO since 1998, to the CEO slot.

Luck, in a March 23 interview at ABC's headquarters, said it became clear following Hendricks' death that some employees feared the boss's passing would mean the end of the core values he always stressed. In a sense, Luck said, the writing down of Hendricks' core purpose and vision "is his gift to the company."

That core purpose declares: "ABC is dedicated to promoting and preserving the American dream by helping people accomplish the extraordinary--based on our fundamental belief that everyone has within themselves the ability to do great things." And the visionary goal states: "ABC will strive to always be recognized as one of the best places to work in America."

ABC also lists seven core values: respect, opportunity, work hard-have fun, entrepreneurial spirit, family, give back, and American pride.

With those values as its bedrock, ABC has set an ambitious mission and goals for the next five to seven years: become "the biggest, best and easiest service company distributing select exterior building products." Its specific goals reflect that broad reach:

  • No. 1 market share on core products
  • 500 locations
  • $5 billion in sales
  • 90th percentile in associate engagement (as measured by surveys and participation in recognition programs such as the Gallup Great Workplaces Award, which ABC has won four straight years)
  • 90th percentile customer engagement (measured by surveys)
  • 10% EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization)

Luck said he believes we have hit the bottom of the housing slump "but the uptick is going to be slow."