H. Wayne Huizenga founded three highly profitable U.S. businesses: Waste Management, Blockbuster Video and AutoNation. Huizenga was also the first entrepreneur to launch three Fortune 500 businesses in his lifetime. His work with AutoNation and his vision for the company earned him an Automotive Hall of Fame induction in 2006.
Wayne Huizenga was born in Chicago in 1937, and moved with his family to Florida as a teenager. He worked most of his childhood, including jobs as a truck driver and gas station attendant. For a short-time he attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He dropped out to join the Army reserves before returning to Florida, where he found a job managing a small garbage hauling business. At age 25, he bought a single used Garbage Truck and started his own business and began buying up rival companies around him. He called his new business “Southern Sanitation Services.” Huizenga soon had 40 trucks and most of the business in Broward County, Florida. Then, persuaded by his cousin’s husband Dean Bruntrock and associate Larry Beck, he joined forces with the Chicago waste hauling firm Huizenga’s grandfather had founded which was run at that time by Bruntock. The three men combined forces to form the publicly owned company “Waste Management.”
Successively acquiring one small operator after another, Waste Management turned into one of the largest waste disposal companies in the world. Huizenga left Waste Management in 1984. He only took a short break from working before he started buying new companies.
Next, in 1987, Huizenga was convinced by former partner Larry Beck to invest in Blockbuster Video – the future of pre-recorded TV entertainment. After promising returns on his investment, Huizenga dove head first into the business. After gaining control of the company, he proceeded to buy up small mom and pop operations and turned the seedy image of a video story with an X rated backroom of pornography into a family-friendly business. By the time he sold Blockbuster to Viacom in 1994, the company had over 3,700 stores.
After the sale of Blockbuster, Huizenga capitalized on another vision, creating a new approach to automotive retail. In 1995, Huizenga bought a majority share of struggling waste disposal conglomerate, Republic Industries. He wanted to take Republic Industries company in a new direction and bought out one of their smaller companies, AutoNation. In 1996, he launched AutoNation USA, the first nation-wide chain of auto retailers. His used-car megastores offered warranted used vehicles sold and serviced as though they were new. This included a national inventory of used cars that would be moved from store to store as demand shifted.
However, there was a hitch. Car manufacturers hampered AutoNation’s desire to buy low mileage off-lease vehicles at auction. Adjusting his strategy, Huizenga bought six car rental companies, a great source of late model used vehicles and an important customer to the manufacturers. He also saw opportunity in the new car business and the acquisition of franchises. Thus, Huizenga maximized profits through the rationalization of maintenance and business services. And the rental fleet delivered a reliable source of used cars to feed the thriving pre-owned car business.
Huizenga retired from AutoNation in 2002.
In 2005, Ernst & Young named Huizenga Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2006, when Huizenga was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame, Sheldon Sandler of Bel Air Partners, an auto retailing consulting firm in Hopewell, N.J., called him the “Babe Ruth of auto retailing.”
Huizenga also invested in South Florida’s professional sports teams, bringing professional hockey and baseball to Miami. Huizenga-owned teams included, Miami Dolphins, Florida Panthers and the Florida Marlins.
Huizenga’s ability to predict changes in consumer preferences and capitalize on these predictions led to his success. He constantly fine-tuned and adjusted his business methods to fit the changing world.
AutoNation recorded its 10 millionth sale in 2015. Proving that Huizenga’s entrepreneurial foresight and instincts were prescient, in 1999 he recruited 2018 Automotive Hall of Fame Inductee Mike Jackson to lead AutoNation. As of 2020, AutoNation was one of America’s largest automotive retailers. There are more than 60,000 cars in inventory and a workforce of 27,000 employees.
Huizenga and his wife Marti were legendary philanthropists in Broward County, supporting many organizations, including the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Boys & Girls Clubs, Broward County Performing Arts Center Authority, Child Care Connection, Humane Society, Junior Achievement, Kids in Distress, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Horatio Alger Association and Nova Southeastern University.
Huizenga has won many awards in his career. He was the five-time recipient of Financial World Magazine’s “CEO of the Year”. In 1992, Huizenga received the Horatio Alger Award, for his funding of scholarships throughout Florida, a recognition of his path to great success despite adversity. In 2008, he received the Vincent Peale Award in recognition of his exceptional humanitarian contributions to society.
Harry Wayne Huizenga died in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, March 2018 at the age of 80.