Wayne Huizenga Part 1: From College Dropout to Garbageman

Sumner Redstone’s autobiography detailed negotiations with Wayne Huizenga during Viacom’s acquisition of Blockbuster Video. I knew that Huizenga owned an NFL team, the Miami Dolphins, at one point, but not much else. I decided to read Gail DeGeorge’s The Making of a Blockbuster: How Wayne Huizenga Built a Sports and Entertainment Empire from Trash, Grit and Videotape.

Blockbuster wasn’t Huizenga’s only outsize success. During his career, he also took Waste Management, Republic Services, and AutoNation public. Each was valued at over a billion dollars. He also launched the NHL’s Florida Panthers and MLB’s Miami Marlins as expansion teams.

Wayne started off in the garbage business. His grandfather immigrated from Holland and ran a garbage business in Chicago. Wayne’s extended family would become garbage entrepreneurs too. Wayne’s father was the exception. He moved to Florida to build homes but went broke when the economy slowed. This scared Wayne.

After dropping out of college, Wayne borrowed money from his father-in-law in 1962 to buy trucks and routes to start his own company in Pompano Beach, Florida, at age 25. Wayne’s intense personality and work ethic, combined with an exploding population, grew his business from one truck to forty trucks and $3 million in revenue by 1969.

Wayne leveraged loans from banks and family to grow. After exhausting those options, he merged with the garbage company his cousin’s husband, Dean, ran in Chicago. Wayne was the deal person and Dean was the strategist and operator.

The combined company couldn’t borrow any more money, so they decided to take it public. In 1971, the company began trading on the over-the-counter (OTC) stock market. Wayne could then use the company’s stock, not cash, to acquire new companies. They acquired 133 companies in ten months in sunbelt states and suburbs. A key part of their strategy was to acquire companies that owned landfills, which created revenue from fees paid by competitors to use their site.

The acquisition pace was blistering. After a decade, revenues reached $772 million, and Wayne didn’t feel that his $23 million in stock and options was enough compensation for his efforts. He wanted more, so he left the company in 1984 and started what would become Huizenga Holdings.

His learnings from Waste Management were that service businesses and rental companies are ideal. Both have great cash flow and high levels of repeat business. This informed his investment thesis. Wayne bought most of a publicly traded lawn-care company, porta potty company, and bottled-water company, to name just a few.

Wayne leveraged his deal-making skills and always bought. He never started from scratch. Huizenga Holdings became a deal-flow machine. He cultivated a network of wealthy, deal-hungry individual investors who shared in the deal flow. Wayne’s early track record was mixed. A savings and loan he invested in was seized, and he lost over $1 million. But Huizenga Holdings would be the sourcing tool that helped him find investments early, including one of his most lucrative investments: Blockbuster Video.

Prefer listening? Catch audio versions of these blog posts, with more context added, on Apple Podcasts here or Spotify here!