“Pop has accomplished incredible things,” said H. Wayne Huizenga, Jr., the son of local businessman Harry Wayne Huizenga, who grew Waste Management, Inc., Blockbuster Video and AutoNation into successful companies and previously owned the Miami Dolphins, Florida Panthers and Florida Marlins teams. “But when they started, they were so poor that Pop sold his pick-up truck to buy Mom’s engagement ring,” said Huizenga, Jr.
The early days
“My father bought an old garbage truck from an African American man. He would pick up garbage all morning and go back out in the afternoon to sell the business. He parked the truck down the street in an old gravel lot and at night he’d have to go down and work on the truck to make sure it would work the next day. My mother would hold the flashlight,” said Huizenga, Jr. With a lot of hard work the Waste Management business grew and Huizenga, Jr. said he earned his first paycheck at 12 years old working at the landfill.
Eventually Huizenga, Jr. learned, “Mom was going to divorce Pop.” She moved Wayne, Jr. and his brother, Scott, to Chicago for eight years. Although he didn’t have much time with his father then, Huizenga, Jr. said “I always wanted to be like Pop, to be successful, provide for my family and do great things.” In college, however, Huizenga, Jr. said, “I lost my way in a big way.” Receiving an unexpected visit from his father at school, Huizenga, Jr. learned that his father was retiring from Waste Management. “I didn’t know what I was going to do,” said Huizenga, Jr. “I always thought I’d work there with my father and suddenly I didn’t know who I was. I had a mid-life crisis at 23.”
A young man
But when his father bought into Blockbuster Video, Huizenga, Jr. got his start as a store clerk and worked his way up. “I had a lot of Blockbuster video stock given to me and made so much money I didn’t know what to do. It almost ruined me,” said Huizenga, Jr. Blockbuster had become the largest video retailer in the world, and Wayne’s father sold it to Viacom as he moved into other ventures.
He continued to work in his father’s businesses, eventually becoming president of Huizenga Holdings. But he said, “I remember my mother telling me, ‘I’m worried about how you’re going to ground your children. This is not reality.’ She encouraged me to bring them to church, but I was drinking so much on Friday and Saturday that by Sunday I was too hung over.”
A submarine captain
Then a chance encounter with a U.S. Navy submarine captain began to impact his life. Invited along on a 3-day trip to transport a fast attack submarine from dry dock in South Carolina to South Florida, Huizenga, Jr. met Captain Brad Fleetwood MacDonald. “We had pizza in the galley, helped drive the sub and set the record for how many grown men would fit in a torpedo tube,” said Huizenga, Jr.
This all came to pass after an attorney friend of Huizenga, Jr.’s met the captain in his dress whites on Fort Lauderdale Beach the day before thanksgiving and invited him to dinner a year earlier. Grateful for the kindness, Capt. McDonald invited the attorney and a few of his friends on the submarine trip. “I wasn’t originally supposed to go, but when his father got the flu, I was invited,” said Hiuzenga, Jr. calling it “God’s providence.”
This was the beginning of an unlikely friendship. “He had taken me on his boat underwater, so I took him on my boat to catch fish.” But according to Huizenga, Jr., “I had met lots of important people, but Captain Brad was different. He had a peaceful calm and joy radiating about him. He didn’t drink or swear and yet he could take men in their 20s and 30s out on patrol in a submarine for six months at a time and not have anarchy. I could learn from him how to lead.”
When Huizenga, Jr. asked Capt. Brad how he could become like him, “he explained that I needed a relationship with God. I had a hole in my heart — not a physical one, but a place where God left space for himself. And like a black hole in space, I was trying to fill it with fishing trips, things, cars, businesses, new houses, hoping that hole would be filled.”
Huizenga, Jr. tried attending traditional church, but one night a friend invited him to a different service where the pastor asked, “Do you think God has a plan for your life? Why do you think he gave you the things you have?” Huizenga, Jr. thought, “Easy pastor, I’ve got a lot of stuff.” But when he was invited to pray to begin a personal relationship with God in which God would tell him his plan, Huizenga, Jr. responded emotionally as he thought, “While life has been good, it’s not been fulfilling and if you have a plan, God, I want to hear it.” So he prayed.
Huizenga, Jr. explained that when he prayed that day in church, he moved from having a relationship with the church to a relationship with the living God.
This was in November 14 years ago, and Huizenga, Jr. said, “My bride likes to talk about God’s perfect timing.” It was not long after that Huizenga, Jr.’s mother became sick and was diagnosed with lung cancer. She moved in with his family, and Huizenga, Jr. said, “I got to serve her.” She passed away nine months later. “A month after that, Pop’s dad died.” Huizenga, Jr. lost a cousin to suicide and close friends lost their 2-year-old son to heart disease.
“I discovered true wealth when Jesus came into my heart and gave me the strength to live the way I should. Without that, I would have gotten on a plane or boat and drank. I would not have been there for the most important person in my life.” After eulogizing his mom and papa, Huizenga, Jr. said, “I had strength for my children and my dad. Junior power was not enough, but with God’s power I found I could be strong and that was true wealth.”
Sharing the wealth
This is a wealth that Huizenga is passionate about sharing. After reading the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 19 Huizenga Jr. said, “I was really struck by the part when the Rich man asks, ‘Please send Lazarus to my house where I have five brothers and warn them so they don’t end up here.’ I had to go to my friends and tell them.”
In 2003 Huizenga, Jr. was involved in Beachfest, an event that attracted 300,000 people to Fort Lauderdale Beach to hear contemporary Christian music and Evangelist Luis Palau. A photo was taken of Huizenga, Jr. standing with heads bowed next to his father on the stage in front of thousands as Palau prayed. Having witnessed Huizenga, Jr.’s transformed life, this was the moment when his father also accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. Today, father and son regularly meet for lunch, ending their meals with prayer.
Currently Huizenga is the president of Huizenga Holdings, Inc. and chairman of the board of Rybovich, a super yacht marina and refit facility in West Palm Beach. Palm Beach Atlantic University awarded the American Free Enterprise Medal to Huizenga in 2011 and Governor Rick Scott appointed him to the Board of Governors of the State University System for a term of seven years in 2013.
If you want to learn more about the true wealth Huizenga discovered, visit www.iamsecond.com/seconds/wayne-huizenga.
For more articles by Shelly Pond, please visit goodnewsfl.org/author/shelly/