Moving Mountains: How Adrienne Bennett’s Tenacity Has Elevated Benkari to Incredible Heights
August 4, 2020
By Bona Van Dis
Adrienne Bennett, president and CEO of Benkari LLC Plumbing & Water Conservation, is a woman to be reckoned with. And after 40 years in the plumbing industry—and most notably, as one of the first female plumbers in Detroit—she’s still striving for more.
Bennett pushes herself and sets high standards (believing that leadership starts at the top), which is clear when you see her achievements and recognition. From speaking engagements at the NAACP National Conference and Women Build Nations National Conference to writing for publications like the Detroit Free Press and CNN Money, Bennett has moved mountains with her tenacity, work and dedication to her craft.
Her resume states, “My objective is to use my Master Plumber License to employ the unemployed, house the homeless, feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Through apprenticeship programs, all of the above is possible while protecting God’s most important natural resource: WATER.”
As a result of Bennett’s exceptional work, Benkari continues to land significant contracts and high-level projects. Bennett believes that anyone, especially women, can achieve greatness if they’re willing to work for it.
Focus: Tell us how you got your start in the plumbing and construction industries.
Bennett: In 1976, at a Jimmy Carter Get Out to Vote rally, Mr. Gus Dowels* approached me and this was our conversation:
He asked, “How would you like to make $50k a year?”
I asked, “Is it Legal?”
He said, “Yes!”
I asked, “Doing What?”
His reply, “Being a plumber.”
*According to the Orlando Sentinel, Gus Dowels was an active member of the Detroit NAACP and “organized a job training program to give black workers the chance to enter the plumbing, mechanical and industrial trades, helping sponsor one of the first black female plumbers in Detroit (Bennett).”
Focus: You are a pioneer in your field—what was it like to break through in an industry dominated by men?
Bennett: It was challenging! I really didn’t have a clue what I was getting into. I had to be the BEST and couldn’t give anyone a reason to get rid of me. But the harder they were on me, the stronger I became. And, even today, I’m always still under the microscope.
Focus: How has tenacity, or “the push” as you call it, set Benkari ahead of the rest?
Bennett: Tenacity is my middle name. Leadership starts from the top down. I have to set the example for our leadership team, and I set a high bar with very high standards. I push myself, and anyone on the Benkari team should expect to be pushed as well.
There have been major changes in the codes, standards and technology since my entry into the industry 40 years ago. To stay ahead of the game, we have memberships in every association in our industry. Through these memberships our team attends conferences where they are able to interact with larger companies, learning from them and bringing that knowledge back to Benkari. I’m still in school. We require all team members to know and have all local and federally required certifications and licenses.
Focus: As a small business owner, explain to us the importance of empowered employees.
Bennett: As a small business owner, I have to wear multiple hats, and I expect my team to do the same. We train our best to become leaders if they express a desire to grow with us.
I find it both interesting and amazing they want to stick and stay with Benkari. I’ve been told that we have given opportunities for self-growth in a career that they would not have had in a larger company; where they would have only been a number.
Superior performance is the result of skilled, experienced employees who feel valued. Benkari ascribes to the motto, “360 degrees of insight,” where every employee is encouraged to provide opinions on work approaches and process improvement. We value our employees and provide professional development opportunities, including education and mentoring to help them fully achieve their personal and professional potential.
Focus: How did you build the Benkari management team and what do you do to retain them?
Bennett: As a union contractor we have the benefit of recruiting our labor from the Plumbers Local 98. Over the years we’ve weeded out those who don’t share our core values and understand our vision. We have the BEST and hold on to them by giving them increased opportunities for growth through continuing education, responsibilities, company vehicles and raises. And when we are awarded long term contracts it provides job security. Our blessings are that they want to stick and stay with us.
Focus: As one of America’s few women and minority-owned and operated, self-performing, union mechanical contractors, what are some words of wisdom for other women entrepreneurs striving for greatness?
Bennett: Never give up on your dream! If it was easy, anyone and everyone would do it. I have invested in me; I am Benkari; and I believe in the man above. Without Him it would not have been possible. That’s my story, but it could be a whole different story for someone else.
I am living the impossible dream and have reached an unreachable star. Any woman can do that if they want it bad enough.
Focus: In what ways has SBAM helped elevated your business?
Bennett: I became aware of SBAM when Benkari was honored as one of Michigan’s Top 50 Small Businesses to Watch 2018. In 2019, I was awarded SBA’s Woman of The Year award. These tremendous recognitions boosted Benkari’s profile and are a source of pride for our team.
In 2019, I attended my first SBAM luncheon as a guest and was so impressed that I joined. Now in 2020 you are interviewing me! I’m glad you have asked this question as I believe SBAM can elevate Benkari even further.
Bona Van Dis is the editor of SBAM.
*Originally featured in Focus Magazine.