Adrienne Bennett: Ford® Supports Women Who Power America Forward
As a young girl growing up in Chicago, Adrienne Bennett remembers the thrill of taking the train to the Michigan Central Station, a building alive with excitement and people.
Now, after decades of neglect, the old train station is being given new life as a high-tech auto innovation hub by Ford Motor Company. And Adrienne, the first African American female master plumber in America, is playing a major role in resurrecting it.
“Here I am 47 years later with the Michigan Train Station contract,” said Adrienne, president and CEO of her own commercial plumbing and water conservation company. “I’m so humbled to be here to bring her back to life.”
Adrienne likens a building to the human body. The pipes are the arteries, the main systems are the organs and venting is the respiratory system.
“I’m not a doctor. I’m not a nurse. I am a contractor. I am a licensed master plumber. The license that I hold is just like the MD that’s bringing life back into a patient. And that’s what I’m going to do, bring this building back to life.”
When Adrienne started out in plumbing more than 40 years ago, she never envisioned herself taking part in such a historic and monumental project. Yet, looking back, one could say that she’s spent her whole life preparing for it.
Born and raised in Chicago, Adrienne and her family moved to Detroit when she was nine years old. After graduating from high school at 17, she attended engineering school but quit after a traumatic racial incident. At a 1976 presidential rally, she was approached by a recruiter who wanted to bring more women into the skilled trades in Michigan.
After determining that the offer was legitimate, Adrienne embarked on a path toward becoming a licensed plumber. Her early years were challenging, driving two hours one way to work, being the only woman on job sites and enduring serious discrimination from her male peers. She was also harassed by women who claimed that she was taking jobs away from their husbands.
“I was in an industry where I wasn’t wanted and they let me know that,” Adrienne explained. “It was very lonely, very demanding and very strenuous.” Rather than give up, she became even more determined to succeed. “I’ve got a tenacious spirit. And I’m not a quitter.”
Adrienne powered forward and worked her way through the ranks of the male-dominated plumbing industry, becoming an apprentice, journeyman, master plumber, inspector, code enforcement officer and estimator. At the pinnacle of her career, she started Detroit-based Benkari LLC with her son, A.K. Bennett.
“Just like any father who has sons working with him, I’m a mother with sons working with me,” she said proudly.
As a successful businesswoman and community leader, Adrienne drives the future forward by mentoring and empowering all people, regardless of race or gender. A strong advocate of the skilled trades, she serves her community by enabling others to apprentice under her license and pushing them to be their very best. Ironically, Adrienne now has men admiring her success instead of challenging it. And women thanking her for helping their husbands to achieve their full potentials.
When asked what powers her forward, Adrienne said that she can’t explain her fire; it’s just something that has always been in her. She thinks that’s what the recruiter saw all those years ago when he approached her with an offer that changed the course of her life and led to her groundbreaking career.
Being a plumber can be a physically demanding, dirty business. But Adrienne Bennett continues to meet the challenges before her and forge new paths to the future. Always the visionary, she smiles slyly and says that her next goal is to get the plumbing contract for the space station. Given her history, that doesn’t seem so far-fetched.