From ‘We don’t want you here’ to being embraced: The story of Adrienne Bennett and how Benkari LLC came to be.
Project manager. Check.
Journeywoman plumber. Check.
Plumbing inspector. Check.
Construction manager. Check.
Some might call it a natural evolution of more than 40 years in the trades, but Adrienne Bennett, the President and CEO of Benkari LLC, a Detroit-based plumbing contractor, calls it destiny.
“It was the final frontier for me,” she said of her decision to start Benkari in 2007. “I’ve done everything else.”
And while she’s done it, she’s broken some significant glass ceilings, the most notable being her designation as the first African American female licensed Master Plumber in North America, a feat she achieved more than three decades ago in a male-dominated field. She was also honored with the 2019 Women Owned Small Business of the Year Award from the Michigan Small Business Administration.
“There was a time when I was told, ‘We don’t want you here,’” she recalled. “Now, I bring a wealth of knowledge. Now, I’m being embraced. At one time, I didn’t get that.”
Adrienne and her business have also been covered in Automotive News, CNN Business, and Benkari received an extended shout-out from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in his 2019 State of the City Address about the company’s commitment to the city.
The birth of Benkari
When you think of downtown Detroit’s People Mover (or public transit in general), plumbing likely doesn’t come to mind. But interestingly enough, a three-year maintenance contract servicing Detroit’s People Mover is what helped launch Benkari in 2007.
“People say, ‘There’s no plumbing in the people mover,’” remembered Adrienne. “There’s a lot of pipe. We’re talking thousands and thousands of linear feet of pipe. You get all that storm water on the tracks. The People Mover was 33 years old, the cast iron was deteriorating. We had a three-year contract and that was pretty much how we opened our doors.”
The contract helped Benkari weather the economic storm that was soon to come after it opened for business, and it wasn’t long before the company began to grow and take on more work. Its biggest project to date has been the plumbing work it performed as a subcontractor with Barton Malow on Building C of Little Caesar’s Arena (LCA).
“LCA was a game changer,” Bennett said. “We were happy to be there, on time, and ahead of schedule the entire time we were on site.”
That doesn’t mean the job was easy. Adrienne vividly remembers the cold winter of work her team put in, much of it outside in freezing temperatures with no wind barriers for protection. The work Benkari performed was enough to land it on the Wall of Fame in the arena’s suite level, which features photos documenting the building’s construction progress.
While LCA was the most prominent project Benkari has worked on with Barton Malow, it’s hardly the only one. Adrienne said Benkari has been involved with many K12 projects Barton Malow has performed in the area, including the Randolph Technical Center upgrades in 2017 and several nearby high schools.
Committed to Detroit, employee growth
Today, Benkari is a second-generation, family-owned business with a goal of becoming the premiere union contractor in the Midwest. It’s also firmly committed to the city of Detroit, and this commitment is affirmed by its recent purchase of a new 10,000-SF space off of Grand River.
“We need the additional space for our prefabrication, for our growth,” Adrienne said. “We’re just growing all around and we want to make sure everyone is comfortable, that they have the space they need, the technology they need. The purchase of this property is a commitment to us staying in business as well as us staying in the city.”
Aside from its commitment to the community, Benkari also prioritizes its employees’ growth and their pursuit of goals. Currently, its staff consists of nine union workers and a handful of office support staff. One of its most recent employees is a graduate of the Barton Malow Boot Camp’s Detroit program.
“We have a pretty remarkable team,” Adrienne said. “They’re committed to showing up, being there, and getting the job done.”