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Turning Garbage into Gold: Huizenga’s Business Takes Off
While Huizenga was busy growing his waste management company in Florida, his grandfather’s Chicago-based garbage collection business was also prospering under the control of Dean Buntrock, the husband of one of Huizenga’s cousins. For Huizenga, collaboration was the only option.
Huizenga approached Buntrock to possibly form a partnership and together, in 1970, the two decided to merge their Fort Lauderdale and Chicago operations. They incorporated and went public with their new venture, Waste Management Inc., and expressed their goal of taking their company national.
To work towards their goal of a waste management company that covered all of the United States, Huizenga and Buntrock began acquiring other firms across the country one by one. They paid for it with existing stock in their new company.
In 1972, during a period of just nine months, Waste Management Inc. acquired 90 smaller garbage collection firms. In the years that followed, Huizenga’s goal of becoming the largest waste management firm in not only the U.S., but in the world, had been achieved. During this time, Huizenga remained president of the company, until 1982 when he became vice-chairman. He resigned two years later to pursue other interests.
In 1987, Huizenga was approached by friend John Melk, who owned a Blockbuster video chain in Chicago. It was only a small video store chain, consisting of eight stores and eleven franchises, but Melk wanted Huizenga’s help to make it as successful as he had made his garbage collection company. Huizenga saw the potential, and raised $18 million to buy the entire Blockbuster chain from Melk.
Two years later, Huizenga took Blockbuster public, and utilizing the same strategy as he had done before, used the capital stock to start buying up small video stores across the country. In only a few years, Blockbuster had gone from being a $7 million business with 19 stores to a $4 billion enterprise with more than 3,700 stores in 11 different countries. At that point, Huizenga grew bored of the operations, and sold Blockbuster to Viacom for $8.4 billion in stock.
Not one to waste any time, Huizenga immediately launched his next venture: Autonation. It was the first car dealership chain in the U.S. After going public, Autonation quickly grew to over 370 dealerships across the U.S. Huizenga then moved on to Extended Stay America, a hotel chain he created from scratch. In its first year, Extended Stay America grew to include 62 locations across the country. By the time Huizenga sold the company in 2004, it included nearly 500 hotels.
Huizenga then decided to re-enter the waste management business, acquiring Republic Services. He quickly grew it into the nation’s third largest waste management company, before merging it with his first company, WMI.
Throughout all of this, Huizenga had also taken a strong interest in major league sports. He bought the Florida Marlins in 1991 for $95 million, followed by a $50 million investment in the Florida Panthers in 1992. Finally, he bought the Miami Dolphins in 1994. Much like his success in business, two of his three sports teams would go on to win national championships.
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