From Humble Beginnings To Billionaire Trash Collector: The Rags To Riches Story of Harry Wayne Huizenga

By on April 17, 2015 in ArticlesEntertainment

Entrepreneur Harry Wayne Huizenga has lived the American dream. He helped found three Fortune 500 companies, has owned three professional sports franchises, and has been responsible for six companies trading on the New York Stock Exchange. He dominated the waste management industry and then he made renting VHS tapes and buying cars easy. He is, by every definition, a success. However, he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He did not come from a family entrenched in the business world, but he became a billionaire with his uncanny ability to pick an industry that is ripe for consolidation. He then dominated those industries so quickly, his competitors were left out in the cold wondering what happened. His is a true rags to riches story.

Wayne Huizenga was born on December 29, 1937 in the Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park, to Dutch immigrant parents Gerrit Harry and Jean Huizenga. Huizenga's father was irresponsible and abusive to his wife and children. When Huizenga was a teenager, his family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He attended Pine Crest School, where he played football and was class treasurer. After graduation, he moved back to Chicago to reunite with his family and friends, who still lived there, before enrolling at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1956. Huizenga dropped out of college during his sophomore year and enlisted in the Army Reserves. Huizenga promised himself a better life, and vowed to be nothing like his father.

 Harry Wayne Huizenga

(Photo By Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

After he completed basic training, Huizenga borrowed $5,000 from his father, and in 1968 bought a truck and started his own waste management business in Broward County, Florida. Each day, he set out to collect the trash on his route at 2am. After he'd dropped it off at the local dump in the early afternoon, he would then go home, shower, put on his best suit and spend the rest of the day calling on retail stores, supermarkets, and homeowners to build his company's business. He quickly expanded across southern Florida. In 1972, he bought 133 small, independent garbage companies over a period of nine months and took his company public. Huizenga built Waste Management Inc. into the largest waste management firm in the US and it became a Fortune 500 company. By 1985, Waste Management, Inc.'s revenue was more than $1 billion. However, Huizenga was tired of the trash business. Worth more than $20 million, he retired at age 46.

Huizenga quickly grew restless and began buying small local businesses in the Fort Lauderdale area. Over a period of three years, he bought more than 100 businesses ranging from hotels and office buildings to bottled water and lawn care. He dominated Fort Lauderdale so thoroughly that it was possible residents of the city could spend an entire day using nothing but his services. By 1986, Huizenga's diversified collection of businesses had an annual revenue of $100 million. He sold out his company and turned his eye to another – Blockbuster Video.

In 1987, Blockbuster was a small chain of video stores. Huizenga saw an opportunity to make Blockbuster Video the McDonald's of video stores. When he bought into Blockbuster in 1987, the chain consisted of just eight stores. He began acquiring other video stores aggressively. One year later, it was the largest video rental chain in the world. By mid 1991, Blockbuster had 1,654 stores in the US, 27 stores in the UK, and 51 in Canada.

Huizenga was making money so fast that he had to spend some of it so he went out and purchased all or part ownership of the Miami Dolphins, Joe Robbie Stadium, the Florida Marlins, and the Florida Panthers. He also bought the Super Club Retail Entertainment record chain, Sound Warehouse, Music Plus, and Republic Pictures.

Then in 1994, he sold Blockbuster Video to Viacom for $8.4 billion and went looking for a new industry to acquire. He was one of the wealthiest men in America.

In 1995 Huizenga was flush with cash and her turned his gaze to his next target – the retail automotive industry. He began building a network of new and used car lots. Over six months, he bought 65 car dealerships with 109 outlets selling 31 brands of cars. He also opened 11 used car superstores called AutoNation USA and bought out Alamo and National car rental agencies. By 1999, AutoNation, Inc. owned or was in the process of acquiring 400 new car dealerships and more than 40 used car stores. The company was also operating almost 4,000 rental car locations worldwide. AutoNation became the world's largest auto retailer and the second largest rental car agency in the US. Huizenga's Midas touch had worked its magic once again.

Despite having a net worth of $2.6 billion, Huizenga seems unconcerned with the money he's made. In fact, he doesn't even take a salary from AutoNation. What has always driven Huizenga is the thrill of competition. Now, at age 77, rather than retiring, Huizenga is plotting his next move.

Articles Written by Amy Lamare
Amy Lamare is a Los Angeles based writer covering business, technology, entertainment, philanthropy, and pop culture. She spent 8 1/2 years covering the entertainment industry for She attended the University of Southern California where she majored in Creative Writing. An avid long distance runner, weekends she can be found running the streets of Los Angeles training for 1/2 and full marathons. Follow her on Facebook.
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