Back in the 1980s, videocassettes were starting to become a big thing, but they had a bit of a seedy image because one of the first business adopters was the adult film industry.
I was on the business news desk at the Sun Sentinel, and we started noticing this guy with an unusual name buying video retailers who were family-friendly. First one deal, and then a flurry.
I asked one of the reporters to check the newspaper’s library of story clips to find out who he was. Oh, Wayne Huizenga was a co-founder of Waste Management. Wow, this looked like it might be a really big deal. Little did we know.
Blockbuster was an example of how Huizenga was a master of industry rollups because he had the wit, charisma, tenacity and humor that convinced people to sell him their businesses. Many times, they would take stock, knowing that he was growing something big and profitable. He is the only person to build three Fortune 500 companies that way.
When I was editor of the South Florida Business Journal, we did a special section when Huizenga was named World Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young. He also spoke at the newspaper’s 20th anniversary party.
Some years later, Huizenga was gracious enough to offer his advice on launching a new business award. The first recipient of our lifetime achievement award was a no-brainer: Give it to Wayne, of course. It was a joyous night to sit at the table with Wayne and his wife Marti at the awards celebration.
Unlike many business leaders who seem to disappear as they get uber-successful, Huizenga was engaged in the local business scene. He enlivened Broward Workshop meetings with his one-liners. He really cared about the community and, with Marti, wrote the big checks to show it. He was pivotal in transforming downtown Fort Lauderdale into a business and cultural center.
So, it was shocking one day to get an email that Huizenga was withdrawing from public life. I didn’t know exactly what was happening at the time, but the valiant fight he made against cancer was taking its toll.
In mid-January, it was great to see a jersey with his lucky number 37 being lifted to the rafters at the BB&T Center and see him waving from his box. Just two months later, though, we learned of his death. After three decades of writing and editing stories about him, it’s not a story that I wanted to end. It was always so exciting to see what he would do next. Those of us who were along for the ride, even it was just writing about what he did, will miss him.