Who has not heard of Blockbuster, Autonation and Waste Management? They are three major U.S. corporations, part of the Fortune 500, and all listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Each one of these corporations has also been built from scratch by the now billionaire Wayne Huizenga.
Wayne Huizenga is an American-born Dutchman with a Frisian name. But then the Frisians are also Dutch. His parents, Gerrit Harry and Jean Huizenga were both products of the Chicago Dutch community. Wayne was born in Evergreen Park, a Chicago suburb, on December 29, 1937. He has one sister, Jean, who is five years younger than Wayne. Wayne grew up in Evergreen Park until he was about 15, when the Huizenga family moved to Florida, and settled in the Fort Lauderdale area.
Wayne's parents were divorced in 1954, when Wayne was 17 and his sister was 12 years old, following an apparent series of marital discords over a period of time. Clearly such traumatic events leave their mark on younger minds, and probably explain why Wayne's developmental years were a bit rocky. Interestingly, Wayne's parents remarried in 1978, 24 years following their divorce.
Wayne's high school years were somewhat muddled. His early high school career was in the Chicago area and when the family moved to Florida, the remainder of his high school years were spent at Pine Crest High School, the only quality high school in the Fort Lauderdale area where the family then lived. Wayne is remembered by his Pine Crest teachers and class mates as a happy and popular student who played on the School's football team, was elected to senior class treasurer, and earned decent grades.
After high school graduation Wayne moved back to Chicago where most of his friends, grandparents and other relatives still lived. In 1976 he enrolled at Calvin College, a church-related college in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He apparently was not that enchanted or challenged by the college courses and dropped out after three semesters.
In September 1959 Wayne enlisted in the Army reserve and spent six months in the service full time to complete his basic training. On September 10, 1960 he married Joyce VanderWagon, a girl with a Dutch background. He had known Joyce since his early school years in Evergreen Park, Illinois. Wayne and Joyce had two children, Wayne Jr. and Scott. Unfortunately the marriage ended in divorce in 1966. Wayne married his second wife, Marti Goldsby in April 1972.
Following Wayne's first marriage to Joyce, the couple moved to Fort Lauderdale where Wayne had gone to Pinecrest High School. Why Wayne moved back there is not clear. But one thing was clear Wayne had an entrepreneurial spirit and he saw the rapid growth in the Fort Lauderdale area providing opportunities. Also Wayne's grandfather was the operator and owner of Ace Scavenger Service, a Chicago-based garbage collection company. And Wayne probably saw opportunities in garbage collection in Florida.
So in 1960, upon arrival in Florida, Wayne went to work for Pompano Carting, a garbage collection service in the Fort Lauderdale area. Wayne's major responsibility was the acquisition of new clients, but it also may have involved driving one of their trucks.
After getting a handle on the business of garbage collection in Fort Lauderdale, he was able to buy a truck and $500 worth of clients from Wilbur Porter, owner of Porter's rubbish services in 1962. That was Wayne's first step in what eventually would become Waste Management, Inc., the largest waste collection and processing firm in the world.
In the meantime his grandfather's garbage collection service in the Chicago area was being run by Dean Buntrock, who was married to one of Wayne's cousins. Wayne's garbage business in Florida had been growing and Buntrock and Wayne got together in 1970 to merge the Fort Lauderdale and Chicago operations. In 1971, the two parties decided to go public with the objective of further expanding their waste management business. They named the new company they had formed, Waste Management, and had it incorporated..
The two partners envisioned a waste management company covering all of the United States. To accomplish this they had to acquire existing firms all over the country. To pay for the acquisition of these companies they planned to pay with existing stock in their new company, Waste Management, Inc. or WMI for short. During 1972, in a period of nine months they acquired 90 garbage haulers. During the decade of the 1970's they accomplished their goal of establishing WMI as the largest waste management firm not only in the United States but across the globe. During that period they acquired nearly one hundred local waste businesses. Huizenga was the firm's president from its inception until 1982 when he became vice-chairman. Wayne resigned from WMI in 1984 to pursue other interests. By that time Huizenga had become a major corporate magnate.
In February of 1987 Huizenga was approached by his friend and business partner John Melk. John Melk owned a Blockbuster video store near Chicago. Blockbuster then was only a small video store chain with only eight stores and eleven independent franchises. Melk saw the potential of doing with video stores what Huizenga had done with garbage haulers. So Huizenga raised enough capital to buy out the Blockbuster chain for $18 million.
In April of 1989 Blockbuster was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. With the use of capital stock Blockbuster started buying up video stores and small chains across the country, using the same formula that had been used for building WMI. During the next several years Blockbuster kept growing until it had 3700 stores in 11 countries. However, Huizenga's game was building companies, not owning or managing them. However, during the building process Huizenga was known as a hands-on administrator. In 1994 he sold Blockbuster to Viacom for $8.4 billion in stock.
Following Blockbuster, Huizenga created Autonation, the first national automobile dealership chain in the United States. Autonation went public and became the third Huizenga corporate creation on the New York Stock Exchange. Autonation currently has dealership businesses in many of the country's major cities.
Next Huizenga started a hotel chain from scratch. It was a new departure from the old formula that had worked well for him. The hotel chain is named Extended Stay America. It grew to 62 hotels after its first year and to 500 hotels in 2004 when it was sold by Huizenga.
Along the way Huizenga also re-entered the waste management field through a company he acquired. The company was Republic Industries. It grew to the third largest waste management company in the country.
Also along the way Huizenga became interested in major league sports. In 1990 he bought an interest in the NFL football team, the Miami Dolphins, and took full control in 1994. In 1991 he bought a baseball expansion team, the Florida Marlins for $95 million. And in 1992 he invested $50 million in the NHL franchise, the Florida Panthers ice hockey team. So within just a few years he became the only owner of teams in three major sports. He only missed out on a NBA franchise. Perhaps he was not a basketball fan.
So what was the key to Huizenga's success over the years? The answer is he used a successful formula and he knew how to execute that formula. The formula consisted of focusing on service and rental industries that were fragmented with frequently poor service histories. Acquisition of these small independent businesses was followed with imposition of service and performance standards. All acquisitions were financed through stock in a company that showed rapid growth in size but also in value. During the period of amalgamation the organization imposed close management control and provided direction in order to ensure quality and profitable operation of each individual local unit.
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