With Wayne Huizenga, Jr., Chairman of the Board of Rybovich, Son of billionaire entrepreneur, Wayne Huizenga who started Waste Management, Blockbuster video, and AutoNation, and owned the Miami Dolphins
In March 2018, billionaire entrepreneur and Miami sports icon, H Wayne Huizenga, died at age 80. Huizenga Sr., as he was known, was the founder of three Fortune 500 companies— Waste Management, Blockbuster, and AutoNation. He used his wealth to buy the Florida Marlins, the Florida Panthers hockey team and, most famously, the Miami Dolphins. His son, H. Wayne Huizenga Jr., took over some of his dad’s old holdings and has established a name for himself, outside his dad’s shadow. Wayne Jr. speaks with Steve about his dad’s legacy and his own plans for the future.
A Humble Upbringing
Most of us have an idealized view of what it’s like to grow up rich. But Wayne Jr.’s story is actually quite down to earth.
Wayne Jr.’s parents divorced when he was just five-years-old in 1966. His mom, Joyce, then moved back to Chicago with Wayne Jr. and his brother, Scott. The family lived in a small, modest home, which Wayne Jr. remembers as being always clean and filled with love.
Around 1973, his mom decided she’d had enough of Chicago and moved back to South Florida. By that time, Wayne Sr. was remarried to a wonderful woman named Marty, who Jr. liked and loved as his step-mom.
Entering The Spotlight
Wayne Jr. didn’t really taste the high life until he reached high school, but college is when things really took off. That’s when his father retired from Waste Management, got involved with Blockbuster video, made significantly more money, and got into sports. Then, all of a sudden, everybody knew who he was.
He remembers going from his mom’s middle-income home in North Palm Beach to his dad’s richly appointed home and back. Wayne Huizenga Jr. also remembers his dad telling him to beware of the press because they wouldn’t always be as friendly as they were when he launched the Marlins.
The warning was a prophecy which came true over controversies surrounding Wayne Sr.’s handling of various sports-related issues. For instance, Wayne Sr. controversially sold the Florida Marlins after losing $34 million because fan attendance dropped despite the Marlins’ game-winning record.
Working With Dad
Wayne Jr. started working for his dad when he was still running Waste Management. He remembers smelling money in the landfills, when everyone else thought the place stank!
After Wayne Huizenga Jr. graduated from college in 1985, he went to work with Wayne Sr. at Blockbuster when it was still very small. He helped open the first three stores in Florida, got to travel, and spent a lot of time meeting senior business executives as Blockbuster expanded abroad.
After Blockbuster took off, its healthy cash flow caught the eye of Viacom’s Sumner Redstone. Redstone planned to buy Paramount and needed good cash flow. Initially, Wayne Sr. wasn’t all that keen on selling because he still saw a significant upside for the business.
But when Viacom offered $8 billion, Wayne Sr. decided it was a very good offer and was the best option for his shareholders.
Wayne Jr.’s Business Portfolio
Wayne Huizenga Jr. now runs Rybovich, which owns two super-yacht marina and repair facilities in West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach. The business was started in 1919, and Huizenga acquired control of the business in 2004. He also runs some legacy businesses but loves the marina business the most.
He has since rebuilt the marina to birth vessels that are well over 300 feet, many owned by celebrities. In the 150+ feet mega-yacht category, Wayne Huizenga Jr.’s marina births more vessel nights than anywhere else in the world, including Monaco, France, Italy, or Spain.
Wayne Huizenga Jr. married his childhood sweetheart, Fonda, 27 years ago and has four children with her. He is also quite involved with his siblings and step-family, following his mom’s advice that family should be #1 on his list of priorities.
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Steve Pomeranz: If you’ve lived in South Florida for many years or maybe you’ve just taken up residence, I’m sure you’ve heard the name and the legacy of H Wayne Huizenga. Wayne Sr., as he is known, was the owner of the Miami Dolphins. He was the founder of Blockbuster video and a creator of so many other businesses. Now I was fortunate enough to have known Wayne casually. I interviewed him in 2005, and as I said recently after replaying that interview after his passing, I came away from that interview extremely impressed with both his honesty and his down to earth demeanor. And so I can say the same thing about the gentleman who is here in the studio with me today. He bears the name and the legacy and he’s graciously agreed to discuss his own life, living under the umbrella, and sometimes shadow of the man referred to as Wayne Sr. My guest is Wayne Huizenga Jr, welcome to the show, Wayne.
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: Thank you, Steve. Thank you for the opportunity to be here.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, first of all thanks for coming in. I know you’re a very, very busy guy and again I point out your graciousness to coming into the studio with us today. Most of us have an idealized view of what it would be like to grow up in a situation as you did. Son of a person who has amassed great wealth, who’s owned 250-foot yachts and football teams and the like. But your story is different, it’s actually quite different, it’s quite a lot more down to earth. Let’s begin with your early childhood. Wayne was married to your mom Joyce and you lived in Chicago. And just take us through there and how you ended up coming down to South Florida.
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: Yes, well, I was born in South Florida; my folks divorced when I was five. My mom decided to move back to Chicago where her and Wayne senior were from. And my brother Scott and I grew up on a six-lane thoroughfare, in a house that had five bedrooms or five rooms, rather, if you counted the back porch. Mom used to say, it’s small, but it’s always clean and filled with love. So it was quite different than I think what most people would think.
Steve Pomeranz: And what years were those?
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: That was in 1966 until ‘72 or ‘73.
Steve Pomeranz: So you were born in South Florida, but you lived in Chicago and in that house that you just referred to. And then your parents were divorced when you were five, and then how did you end up coming down here?
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: Dad remarried, remarried Marty who was wonderful and I was blessed to have two mothers as I lost my natural mother early one day after she turned 63. We went ahead and it was kind of a decision that dad was going to move back and so mom decided that she’d had enough of Chicago and she was ready to move back. So we all kind of moved back around within about a year of each other.
Steve Pomeranz: So, you came down with your mom?
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: Yes.
Steve Pomeranz: And Wayne Senior had already been remarried? And he was establishing a life down here. So where did you live?
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: We lived in Fort Lauderdale at first as well as dad did and we ended up relocating to Palm Beach County, it would have been in ‘76 or ‘77.
Steve Pomeranz: So your dad was pretty busy.
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: He was extremely busy building waste management with Uncle Dean, with Dean Buntrock, and Uncle Peter, Peter Huizenga.
Steve Pomeranz: I remember going up to the executive suites in Fort Lauderdale and seeing a black and white photo of Wayne and that was at the New York stock exchange and it was Wayne in kind of the executive team, and they were beaming with pride, you could just see that. This is the first time I think he had really kind of ventured into that. Do you remember those days at all?
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: I don’t remember those days; I remember the pictures very well. And I remember the people in those pictures because I kind of grew up with them, and we’d go and I guess today you’d call it kind of a playdate. But it was really dad going and having meetings with John Melk or with some of the other founders. And they had children, and so we’d all kind of hang out or whatnot while our parents were meeting and doing business and whatnot. So I don’t remember the listing, that was in ‘72, I believe, and so I would have only been 11.
Steve Pomeranz: So he traveled a lot, he flew around from place to place a lot. So how often did you actually see him?
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: In the early days, not a lot, there were some years where I might only see him three or four times. And it’d be a day here or two or three days there and it was cherished times, after the divorce. And some say that the pain of the divorce was what really drove him, I don’t know if that’s true or not. I think he was very driven regardless, but I think that not having the kids and having his bride around in the early days was, okay, what else do I have to really do but work, because he was never a big guy to play around and whatnot.
Steve Pomeranz: But originally, he really wasn’t that interested in working. He came out of the army, didn’t really know what to do. There was the garbage business and it’s like, I don’t know if it was his uncle or his father says, come on, come with the garbage business. He was like, no, I don’t really think I want to do that. But obviously, there was something inside him that drove him. He was also extra-savvy and smart and he was able to take that multiple levels higher. Now, at what point did you realize that there was kind of a money magic here? You were starting to be surrounded by large yachts, he bought this property off in the isles of Fort Lauderdale. What was that like for you?
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: That time frame was really when I was in high school. He bought an old house that had built in the ‘20s and Las Olas wasn’t like Las Olas is today. I mean, it was still a neat, neat, neat situation, but it was really when I was in college and graduated from college that he retired from waste management, got involved with Blockbuster video, and really started to make significantly more money, and then got into sports. And that’s when, all of a sudden, everybody knew who he was.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: Before, he was kind of, the business community knew him, but the world didn’t as they got to today and it was quite eye-opening. I remember very well being in the offices shortly after we launched the Marlins and him telling us, Bob Henninger and I were together and him saying, you know, the press won’t always be this friendly.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: One day it’s going to change.
Steve Pomeranz: [LAUGH]
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: And I remember looking at Bob and thinking, what?… you’ve got to be kidding me. I was the golden child here.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: And sure enough, within a couple of years with sports and all.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, selling the Marlins and all of that was very controversial.
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: Yeah.
Steve Pomeranz: And kind of broke the unspoken rule of home team. It’s not just a business, there was more to it.
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: And that’s all fine and good until you’ve filled the team and you still don’t fill the stadium until you’re playing the Braves, and on your way to the World Series playing the Indians. But that year, we lost $34 million of cash.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: I mean, not going to go sure, sure, but I was there. And the conversation had been, if the fans don’t come out when we have a winning team then when are they really going to come out. And unfortunately, I think we’ve continued to see that. That in South Florida, so many things to do that sitting for a baseball game in the middle of summer is tough.
Steve Pomeranz: Right, and they’re still having challenges making at it a go.
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: Yeah.
Steve Pomeranz: That’s for sure.
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: Yeah, and have a beautiful facility-
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, even with the stadium
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: Down there.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: Unbelievable.
Steve Pomeranz: So you were in your teens and they were living off of Las Olas. You were still living where?
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: I was living in North Palm Beach with my mom.
Steve Pomeranz: Okay.
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: In the townhouse there, so I’d go from middle income and then on the weekends drive down or boat down sometimes. And go to, wow! and then back to middle income again, so it was very interesting.
Steve Pomeranz: Right, now you worked for your dad in those businesses, right? First of all, you worked in waste management, and we were talking earlier, and there’s a story that I have because I was working construction in the summer in the ‘70s. And I remember driving a truck to the dump and thinking, yeah, this place really stinks, I hate this place. And your comment to me, while it smelled bad to me, but it smelled like money to you guys, right?
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: That’s it, whenever people say that, oh, sure, that place smells bad and dad would look at me, and say, it smells like money, doesn’t it, and you’re going to go, yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, exactly, but you also got involved when Blockbuster started to take off, tell us a little bit about that.
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: I graduated college in ‘85, I worked with my grandfather for a little while. And then, I went to work with Wayne senior in Blockbuster, and it was still very small. I helped to open the first three stores down here in Florida. Got to travel and help open the first store in London, internationally, and got to spend a lot of time with him on working special projects and traveling, looking at acquisitions, and meeting the top people in the industry like Ron Castell and some of the others. And it was a great, great time.
Steve Pomeranz: He didn’t want to do it at first, he had to really be super-convinced over and over again because, at that time, those video stores, they had a pornographic section in the back, it was just a kind of a different kind of business. This idea of kind of centralizing these businesses and putting them under one logo and everything, that wasn’t something that I think he understood until he really got to understand it, you know?
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: No, you’re absolutely right, that was a perception thing that it was not at all what Blockbuster was. And one day John Melk cornered him in Chicago at the airplane and said, I’m not going to move my car out of the way of the airplane until you take a ride with me. And he showed him the store and it was everything but what you described. It was bright and well-lit and tons of videos and he was impressed and then he showed him the financials. He said, this is incredible, and they made, the three of them John Melk and Wayne Sr., and Don Flynn, and made an investment and took control of the company.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, there’s so much to that story. I’m speaking with Wayne Huizenga, Jr, the son of Wayne Huizenga, Sr., of course, and we’re talking about Wayne a little bit and also what it was like to kind of grow up in that world. It’s not necessarily just all peaches and cream, there’s a lot going on in life here. And I think it’s really quite fascinating. I was around and involved in a tangential way. There’s a gentleman you mentioned before that I know very well, and I was around for the sale of the Blockbuster deal. So, I’m an investment advisor, so I was very much into what was going on. Watching Sumner Redstone from Viacom and he was buying Paramount and he needed all this cash flow. And there was this gem of cash flow called Blockbuster Video, but I don’t think Wayne really wanted to sell it initially right?
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: No, it was not his first choice; I think that he saw a lot of legs left. But again, it was about what’s best for the investors. And we met a lot of regular people that bought stock because they believed in him in Fort Lauderdale, at first, and then around the country, and they’d come to the shareholder’s meetings. And so many times we heard older ladies come up and say, Wayne, we love you, and because we bought stock, my grandchildren are going to college for free because I made so much money, thank you. And so, when Viacom came along with that kind of an offer, over $8 billion at that time for the purchase of the company, he said, it’s not what I want to do, but it’s the right thing to do for the shareholders.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, also when you’re thinking about the amount of money that Blockbuster’s making, it takes quite a number of years to add up the profits to add up to $8 billion. So you kind of get this early payment.
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: Yeah, absolutely. Now there is no doubt that it was a good deal and it was the right thing to do. But his heart saw so many other things and I have no doubt that had he not stayed in that maybe Blockbuster would have been Netflix, it would have been a natural extension.
Steve Pomeranz: Yes, well, that was the big challenge back then because people were seeing the fact that the idea of going into a store and getting a CD or a DVD was going away, but he sold out well before then. Let’s talk about your current business, what are you doing currently? What’s occupying most of your time?
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: I have a super yacht marina and repair facility, well, two of them in West Palm Beach and Rivera Beach called Rybovich and that was the family name. The business was started in 1919; we acquired the control of the business in 2004. And we have rebuilt the majority of the existing facility and we birth vessels now to well over 300 feet. And you would see a lot of celebrities in their vessels when you come down to visit us. And that’s probably my favorite business, but we still have some legacy businesses as well that I manage with the guys at the holdings company, Bob and Chris and Alex, for the kids and that type of thing. But Blockbusters is my favorite and I love the water.
Steve Pomeranz: You mean Rybovich
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: Yeah, thank you. Thinking about the $8 billion and I’m going, I don’t know that I’m going to get there with Rybovich.
Steve Pomeranz: It’s a slog. So, this marina is one of just very few around the world because it has the ability to handle these very large ships. So, what other marinas of this size are you competing with? What’s the closest one?
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: There’s a few down in Fort Lauderdale, but they cannot birth the same sized vessels as we do. So our competition’s really international, and if you were to look at vessels over a 150 feet, we birth more vessel nights than anywhere else in the world, more than Monaco, more than anywhere in France or in Italy or in Spain. So we have more large vessel nights in our marina than anywhere else in the world.
Steve Pomeranz: So tell us a little bit about your family. You married and give us a little insight there.
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: I married my childhood sweetheart Fonda and we met when were 15, thanks to her mother, Edi. I’ve been blessed with 27 wonderful years with her this past October. I have four incredible children Savannah, who is married now for three years. My son Wayne III, who just graduated from Wake Forest and is working with me. He’s 23, and I have two younger children with Fonda. I joke that I had to beg for those because she was an only child. When I asked her parents, they said, well, we only had one, because we got it right the first time.
Steve Pomeranz: [LAUGH]
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: If she were here she’d say, absolutely, and she is wonderful. She’s a biomedical engineer and an electrical engineer. And after some begging and prodding, I was blessed to have Garrett, who’s named after my grandfather, his great-grandfather, Wayne Sr’s father, and Ansley Manyan. And Ansley is 16 now and loves to play lacrosse and is playing on the team that’s ranked 5th in the nation right now.
Steve Pomeranz: So you’re very involved with your business, your immediate family, you’re still seeing Wayne’s family and your sisters, stepsisters, and the like?
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: Absolutely, yeah, we’re all going up to Pam’s for Thanksgiving. That was a promise that we made to mom before she passed that we would keep the family together. Both of my mothers pressed that family is number one, and you only get one family and you need to stay together. So we’ll all be together in Stuart for Thanksgiving and we were up in Holland, Michigan, on the lake this summer of July 4th with the rest of the Huizenga family. And we had a great time for our Huizenga family reunion and we’re big on tradition and on family.
Steve Pomeranz: That’s wonderful. My guest Wayne Huizenga Jr., to hear this interview again and if you have any questions about what we’ve just discussed, visit our website at stevepomeranz.com to join the conversation. And while you’re there sign up for our weekly update for a brief rundown on important topics. And interviews like this, where you can see them every single week in your inbox and decide whether this is something you want to listen to. Whether you’d like to read the transcript or we even have a summary of it as well. Sign up for that, and the website is stevepomeranz.com, Wayne Jr., thanks so much for joining us.
Wayne Huizenga Jr.: Steve, thank you for the opportunity again.