THE LIMP DRIVERS WAITED LONG INTO THE NIGHT, LOUNGING AT THE CURB OUTSIDE THE ST. REGIS HOTEL IN NEW YORK. UPSTAIRS, H. WAYNE HUIZENGA, THE CEO OF BLOCKBUSTER ENTERTAINMENT, AND A POSSE OF HIS EXECUTIVES WERE FACE-TO-FACE WITH BILLIONAIRE SUMNER REDSTONE AND THE MEN FORM MEDIA GIANT VIACOM INC. WHEN THE SMOKE CLEARED, THE PLAYERS HAD A DEAL: VIACOM BOUGHT BLOCKBUSTER IN A STOCK SWAP VALUED AT $8.4 BILLION. All that was needed was approval from the stockholders.
In seven years under Huizenga, Blockbuster stock had soared more than 4,000 percent in value. "A lot of my people made a lot of money," says Huizenga. But it meant abdication for the man who had built the video empire. Speaking right after share holders approved the merger, he was characteristically blunt. He told reporters that he'd stay on six months to a year to smooth the transition, but that was it. "I'm not going to work for anyone. I'm the lead guy or I'm out," he declared.
Huizenga now spends his days looking for a new empire to create, another chance to apply the wit, skills, and contacts that grew two multibillion-dollar companies from the ground up. At 57, he is a hard-driving, hardworking, very wealthy man, worth $1 billion or more. He is a dealmaker, a builder of companies. He likes to make money, he'll tell you, although he is proud to point out that he lives well within his means. He likes to see his people make money, as long as they work for it. He's helped scores of his executives become millionaires, rewarding them with pieces of the companies they helped to grow.
Since Huizenga sold Blockbuster, his future is an open book. Offers and deals pour into his office every day. Whatever Wayne is going to do next, everyone with a dream wants to play.
When a man builds an empire, it can be traced to ability or luck or both. Huizenga has built two empires, and there's time for more. That takes a lot more than luck. He started, after all, with a garbage truck and a route worth $500 a month.
TRUCK DRIVER AT 14
If environment helps to shape an entrepreneur, then Harry Wayne Huizenga was born at the right time -- 1937 -- in the right place -- the Dutch Reform community of Evergreen Park, 111. Wayne spent most of his Sundays in church and was forbidden to read comic strips. But it's simplistic to say Huizenga learned his work ethic in church.
Huizenga's paternal grandfather had founded one of Chicago's first private garbage pickup services. His father, Harry, was a contractor, building houses. Fourteen-year-old Wayne worked for his father afternoons and weekends, driving trucks and unloading bulldozers from tractor-trailers.
In 1953, Harry moved the family to Fort Lauderdale to find his fortune. It didn't work out. When a recession hit in 1957, he got stuck with three houses he'd built on spec. By then, the Huizenga family had come apart. In 1954, Jean Huizenga had filed for divorce, alleging "extreme cruelty."
Both 16-year-old Wayne and his 11 year-old old sister Bonnie testified in divorce court that Harry would hit them all. Of his court appearance, Huizenga says, "It's one of those things you have to do in those situations. Ninety-nine percent of divorces need a cause of action, and that can get blown out of proportion."
The divorced Huizengas fought bitterly over custody and support of Wayne and Bonnie. (But in 1978, after Jean had been through another marriage and divorce, Huizenga's parents remarried each other.)
In the early 1950s, Huizenga was a student at Fort Lauderdale's Pine Crest School. There, he was surrounded by some of the wealthiest kids in Florida. "You never would have known he was going to be a success," recalls the prep school's president, Bill McMillan, then one of Huizenga's teachers. "He was an average student. A popular boy." But already, he was willful and adept at getting his way.
When Pine Crest started its football team, Huizenga wanted to name it the Panthers. "I didn't want the name," says Bill Munsey, Pine Crest's coach back then. "We had another school here in town with the name Panthers -- I didn't think we should have two schools with the same name. But we had a vote. Wayne got up and made a talk to the assembly. Someone else spoke up for another name. Wayne won it."
Wayne became a linebacker. "Linebackers are aggressive," Munsey explains. "They like to hit somebody. "
After his high school graduation, Huizenga wandered for a few years. He briefly returned to Chicago, where he got a job driving a bulldozer. He served six months' active duty in the Army Reserve. He enrolled in Calvin College in Michigan; two years later at Christmas, he dropped out. "I didn't like it, going back to the snow and gloomy skies," Huizenga recalls. "I decided I was going to go to the University of Miami in September."
Huizenga never did get back to college. In 1960, as he and his new wife, Joyce, were starting a family in Fort Lauderdale, South Florida was beginning to boom. "They were building condominiums like they were in out of style," says Huizenga. Harry wanted Wayne to learn to build houses.
Then, one day in a restaurant, the two Huizenga men ran into an old Chicago friend of Harry's named Herman Mulder, who owned a Florida garbage company called Pompano Carting. Mulder's manager had quit. "He was down here trying to hire someone," Huizenga remembers. "He asked me what I was going to do, and I said I didn't know. So he said, 'I got a job for you. You're our new manager.'"
Huizenga protested. He didn't know anything about the work. He didn't want to be a professional garbage hauler. "You can handle it," Mulder replied. "Just do it for me until I can get down here and get someone."
"So the next morning, I'm down in Pompano," says Huizenga, "and this guy has three trucks parked in front of a gas station, and I'm saying, 'I'm the new guy. Let's get these trucks rolling.'" He made sure the business ran, that the guys woke up in the morning and got the trucks on the road, that they did a good job, and that the customers who were delinquent on their payments were called on for collection. In the afternoons, he knocked on doors trying to get new accounts.
Collecting garbage is a tough business. In 1961, a customer named Thomas Millwood sued Huizenga over a fight they had at Millwood's home. Huizenga remembers Millwood's account was delinquent. Service had been cut off. They argued. "He told me, 'You pick up that garbage, or I'll knock you on your butt.' Not those exact words, but that was the general idea," Huizenga says, insisting Millwood then jumped him. According to the lawsuit, Huizenga ended the fight by twisting Millwood's testicles. A judge ordered Huizenga to pay $1,000 in damages. An interesting story: Even then, Huizenga did whatever it took to control a situation.
THE ENTREPRENEUR BEGINS
Harry always said nobody ever got rich working for somebody...