Wayne Huizenga Part 5: What I Learned

I finished reading about Wayne Huizenga’s amazing entrepreneurial journey. His biography was published in 1995 when Wayne was 57 or so. He wasn’t done. He continued building before passing in 2018. The public companies he was involved with and the value they created for shareholders are testimonials to his entrepreneurial success:

Wayne also founded two professional sports teams and bought the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

How Did Wayne Become So Successful?

Childhood pain instilled drive in Wayne. He watched his father fail and go broke. This scarred him and sowed in him a fear of financial insecurity. Wayne was also born with an intense personality. These two traits fueled Wayne’s tireless work ethic and frantic pace. Wayne worked constantly and did multiple things at once. In the 1950s, friends realized that Wayne was different when he installed a phone in his bathroom. Wayne’s drive had a downside, too. His first wife divorced him, and he openly shares regrets of not being around to see his children grow up. Executives working under Wayne also sacrificed personally to keep up with him.

Another factor in Wayne’s success was his strategy. He focused on building large companies through acquisitions. Picking the right types of companies and markets was key. Wayne’s criteria were simple:

  • Service industries with repeat business
  • Growing industries
  • Industries dominated by mom-and-pop entrepreneurs, who are easy to take market share from
  • Economies of scale that a large player can benefit from

If you don’t know something exists, you can never benefit from it. Wayne worked to make sure he was in the flow of information, which contributed to his success. In private markets he had a network of wealthy, early-stage investors with whom he shared deals. On Wall Street, he had a network of investment bankers and analysts. Owning three sports teams kept him in the know with titans of various industries. When something was happening or about to happen, Wayne knew about it.

Last, Wayne figured out his playbook for compounding his wealth rapidly. He learned how perception on Wall Street worked and how to scale companies rapidly. He combined those two things to create his initial wealth base by growing Waste Management quickly. He then compounded that wealth even faster by applying the same playbook to Blockbuster.

What Kind of Entrepreneur Was Wayne?

Wayne was a buyer. He was a deal maker. He enjoyed the thrill of winning deals and building an empire by acquiring. But Wayne had no desire to run an empire. He was not an operationally minded entrepreneur. He could pick and acquire the pieces of his empire, but putting them together and managing them fell to others.

Wayne was never satisfied. He always wanted more. People who worked closely with him repeated this throughout the book. He never said “Good job.” Instead, he always said “You could have done more.” The $23 million fortune he accumulated at Waste Management wasn’t enough, so he quit. The $8.4 billion signed deal with Viacom to acquire Blockbuster wasn’t enough, so he pushed Sumner Redstone for more stock before the deal closed. No matter what, he always wanted more. His thinking about pursuing more when he already had enough is best captured in this quote: “Why do you climb the mountain? Because it’s there.”

What Did I learn from Wayne’s Story?

  • Entrepreneurship through acquisitions is a viable path to building a publicly traded company.
  • A deal-oriented entrepreneur is well suited to partnering with an operationally oriented person. Otherwise, the foundation could crumble as more acquisitions are added.
  • When building something to sell in the short to medium term, you’ll likely be playing the perception game. You can’t always control perception. Perception can lead you to do things that may not benefit your customers.
  • Dealmaking is a skill. If you’re doing a deal and you don’t have this skill, find someone who does. The downside to a bad deal can be big.
  • Wayne’s rules for making a deal:
    • Don’t fall in love with a deal.
    • Don’t paint yourself in a corner.
    • Never say anything that won’t allow you to come back in the front door.
    • Don’t say anything is a deal breaker (if you renege, you kill your credibility).
    • A deal is never dead if you don’t let it die.
    • Always let the other side set the initial price.
    • Recognize what the other side really wants out of a deal.
    • Know when to walk.
    • Don’t take no for an answer.

Wayne was an amazing entrepreneur. His biography is a blueprint for anyone interested in building companies by acquiring, learning about dealmaking, getting into the business of sports franchises, or compounding wealth in the stock market.

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