John Menard, the Self-Made Man
Forbes ranks him near the top in that category, though below Oprah.
The wealth of John Menard Jr., Wisconsin’s wealthiest man keeps rising. Back in 2007 Forbes estimated he was worth just $5.2 billion, making him the 155th wealthiest person in the world.
But in the latest Forbes ranking for 2016, Menard was estimated to be worth $9.3 billion, making him the world’s 116th wealthiest person and the 46th wealthiest American.
Menard has been on the list of Forbes 400 for 20 straight years. He is wealthier than Donald Trump, Mark Cuban, Ross Perot, Michael Milken, Sam Zell, Charles Schwab, Ralph Lauren, Jerry Jones, Christy Walton, David Rockefeller and many other people celebrated for their wealth.
However, in the Forbes “real time analysis,” which continuously updates everyone’s wealth, Menard has risen to a $10.2 billion net worth, yet has dropped from 116th to 129th on the list of the world’s wealthiest. He’s apparently not getting richer fast enough.
To determine which of the wealthy are self-made, the magazine “looked carefully at these billionaires’ upbringing, paying special attention to their parents and their socio-economic status. To merit a score of 10, a member of the Forbes 400 would have to have been born into poverty, or lower middle class, and had to overcome obstacles such as being left an orphan, forced to work low-paying jobs, or faced abuse or discrimination.”
The classic example of that is Oprah Winfrey, “who grew up dirt poor, raised alternately by her single mom and her grandmother, and was sexually abused by several male relatives,” the magazine notes — and much of that was in Milwaukee, it must be regretfully noted. Oprah and George Soros, “who survived the Nazi occupation of Budapest, fled Hungary under Communist rule and worked his way through the London School of Economics as a railway porter and a waiter, are prime examples of what a 10 represents,” Forbes explained.
Compared to them, Menard is one rank lower, with a “9” ranking, described as “Self-made who came from a largely working-class background; rose from little to nothing.”
Menard owns the vast majority of his privately owned Menard’s home improvement retail chain, with 303 stores in 14 states, ranking the company behind Home Depot and Lowe’s.
With all that money, Menard can spend freely to gain influence with politicians, and has contributed some $2.8 million to Wisconsin politicians, including some $2.5 million through dark money special interest groups, according to a tabulation by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
All of the money went to Republicans and conservatives save for a $20,500 donation for former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat.
As to what Menard was hoping to buy, a good bet is more lenient environmental oversight. He has a long history of getting fines and being charged with violations by the Wisconsin DNR, federal EPA and even the Minnesota Attorney General, as I’ve reported.
But there has been an end to such enforcement actions by the state DNR since Menard gave more than $1.5 million in checks to support Gov. Scott Walker. And the cherry on the cake: Menard’s company has been awarded up to $1.8 million in special tax credits from Walker’s Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
Menard, as I’ve written, has also been embroiled in several seamy suits, one of which was recently settled in his favor. Debra Sands, a lawyer who was Menard’s ex-fiance, also claims she was also his live-in partner for eight years and did many hours of legal work for him. She demanded a hefty payment for it all. In September a court ruled in Menard’s favor and threw out the suit.