Wayne Huizenga, Empire-Builder in Videos and Trash, Dies at 80

(Bloomberg) -- Wayne Huizenga, a billionaire who made Waste Management Inc. and Blockbuster Video the leaders in their industries and used his wealth to buy professional baseball, football and hockey teams, has died. He was 80.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Pamela Huizenga Alexander, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Huizenga was a longtime resident of South Florida.

After founding Waste Management and vastly expanding a fledgling Blockbuster, Huizenga also created AutoNation, the leading auto superstore, and co-founded Extended Stay America Inc., the long-term hotel chain.

He was the initial owner of the Florida Marlins, a Major League Baseball expansion team that won the World Series in 1997. He also owned the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers and the Miami Dolphins, a National Football League club. He was the only person at the time to own three major-league professional teams simultaneously.

He typically sold off his assets at considerable profit after they had become industry leaders.

“For Wayne Huizenga, the making of money, as he is often quoted as saying, has become akin to a game,” Gail DeGeorge wrote in her 1994 biography, “The Making of a Blockbuster: How Wayne Huizenga Built a Sports and Entertainment Empire from Trash, Grit and Videotape.” “The money is simply a way to keep score. By that benchmark, he has done quite well, indeed.”

By 2017, Huizenga was worth $2.2 billion, according to Forbes.

Upward Climb

Huizenga began his upward climb with a modest start in the garbage business, following in the footsteps of his Dutch grandfather, who had a small disposal service in the Chicago area, where Huizenga grew up.

In 1962, with a $5,000 loan from his father-in-law, Huizenga started with one used garbage truck in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where his father had moved his family. In five years, he had consolidated 100 other garbage-pickup companies into Waste Management, which became the largest waste-disposal company in the world by 1972, a year after Huizenga took it public.

After resigning from Waste Management as chief executive officer in 1984, he bought Blockbuster in 1986 with some partners for a $25,000 investment and expanded it from 19 video stores to 3,700 outlets with an annual revenue of $4 billion, making it the leading movie-rental company in the U.S. He sold his stake in 1994 to Viacom Inc. for $8.4 billion, 16 years before Blockbuster went bankrupt in the dawn of the Netflix era.

Huizenga’s key tactic was to build aggressively, especially through buying existing businesses.

“I like being a builder,” he once told the Miami Herald. “I don’t like being a manager.”

World Series

Huizenga didn’t hesitate to spend money to make money. In the case of the Marlins, he laid out more than $89 million to sign stars such as pitcher Alex Fernandez, third baseman Bobby Bonilla, outfielder Moises Alou and reliever Dennis Cook. With a lineup that also included outfielder Gary Sheffield and pitcher Al Leiter, they beat the Cleveland Indians in seven games to become world champions after just five seasons in the league.

Facing more than a $30 million loss that winning season after investing $95 million to buy the Marlins, Huizenga traded his high-priced stars and sold the team for $150 million, while retaining rights to skybox tickets, the majority of parking revenue and a slice of stadium concessions.

“Huizenga made a killing when he sold the team,” economist Andrew Zimbalist told Sports Business Daily in 2003.

Huizenga also claimed he was losing money on the Dolphins and the Panthers, which made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996. But his real estate side deals made him money overall.

His original investment in the Panthers nearly tripled in total value to $150 million by 1998 because of associated real estate deals, according to the New York Times. In 2001, he sold the Panthers to pharmaceutical businessman Alan Cohen and former NFL quarterback Bernie Kosar for about $100 million.

Harry Wayne Huizenga was born on Dec. 29, 1937, in Evergreen Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, to Gerrit and Jean Huizenga. His father made his fortune in the construction business and moved his family to Fort Lauderdale in 1954.

In 1955, he graduated from Pine Crest High School in Fort Lauderdale. Raised in the Dutch Reformed Church, he attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but left in 1958 before graduating. He joined the U.S. Army Reserve in 1959.

Huizenga is survived by his children, Wayne Jr., Ray, Scott and Pamela, and 11 grandchildren. He was predeceased by his second wife, Marti, according to the Miami Herald.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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