What We All Can Learn from Wayne Huizenga

Wayne Huizenga headshot with logos of WASTE MANAGEMENT BLOCKBUSTER and AutoNation

Under-reported last week was the passing of Wayne Huizenga, one of the truly great entrepreneurs of the last 50 years.

Because in his lifetime, he founded and grew not one, not two, but three multi-billion dollar businesses.

In three separate industries.

With three different business models.

Wayne famously started his career in “trash,” driving a garbage truck from 2:00 am to noon every day, and in the afternoon trading in his overalls for a salesman’s suit to court and win new customers.

In 1971, he took that trash business public and within a year had bought 133 other garbage truck companies – hyper-growing right away the $14 billion conglomerate that became Waste Management.

Within his first great business success, he displayed passion and guts – when his eldest son, working summers for his dad, would complain about the smell of landfills and the dirty  work environment, his father would famously quip “It smells like money to me, son.”

Combined with the passion and guts was an inherent foresight as to the overriding business importance of predictable customers and recurring revenue.

And about what makes a marketplace with lots of “mom and pop” fragmentation and lack of professional management ripe for the picking and consolidation.

These insights served him well in 1987 when he invested in a small Chicago video tape rental chain called Blockbuster.

Similar to the rocket fast expansion of Waste Management 20 years earlier, Wayne grew Blockbuster from 20 to 3,500 stores within seven short years.

And just like with Waste Management’s early public offering, he cashed out of Blockbuster early – in 1994 to Viacom for a whopping $8.4 billion!

Getting out at that peak moment before the emergence of the Internet and video streaming technologies led to the video rental chain’s infamous demise and death.

At this career point as a self-made billionaire with two massive business successes, no one would have begrudged him to retire to a life of leisure and  philanthropy.

Instead, again displaying that insatiable passion for business,Wayne went on to found and grow a third business – AutoNation, which became the country’s largest auto retailer with more than 360 retail locations, 26,000 employees, and $20 billion+ in annual sales.

A key to the success of AutoNation was Wayne learning to temper his “grow by super-fast acquisition” spirit that so drove the success of Waste management and Blockbuster.

And to delegate. In 2000, he hired Mike Jackson as CEO, who in turn recommended simplifying the company’s business model to focus more on new car sales, and more in the premium categories.

Wayne Huizenga – for sure on that very high “second tier” of great Modern American Entrepreneurs and Business Builders.

Not as famous or impactful as a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates for sure, but with a success strategy perhaps more accessible and emuable for the rest of us.

Work hard.  Love it.  Deal make always. Empower and believe in your people.

And of course, never think that a business is inaccessible because you’ve never done it before.

Trash.  Videotape.  Cars.

Businesses started and grown big in three very different industries, with three very different business models.

But all with the same effervescent beating heart – Wayne Huizenga.


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