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Wayne Huizenga brought decades of entrepreneurial experience to the Kellogg School during an April 3 dinner speech at the James L. Allen Center. Huizenga, whose businesses include Blockbuster Video and the Miami Dolphins football team, spoke to participants in the NFL Player Development Program.

The making of a Blockbuster

Wayne Huizenga shares his entrepreneurial journey through the movie-rental industry and beyond with students in the NFL Player Development Program at Kellogg

By Aubrey Henretty

4/10/2007 - On a fateful day in the mid-1980s, entrepreneur and Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga received an urgent phone call from a business partner who insisted Huizenga board the first plane to Dallas to check out a new investment opportunity there — a movie-rental store called Blockbuster Video.

Huizenga, who didn’t even own a VCR at the time, was skeptical: “I said, ‘Video store? You’ve got to be kidding.’”

The billionaire investor and business leader spoke April 3 in the James L. Allen Center as part of theNFL Player Development Program, which arose through a partnership between the Kellogg School and the NFL Players Association. For the second consecutive year, more than two dozen NFL athletes participated in the intensive three-day program, studying under renowned Kellogg faculty and benefiting from real-world leadership insights of guests such as Huizenga, who told the audience how he flew grudgingly to Dallas to investigate the video venture at the behest of his business colleague.

“I was very impressed with the store,” he said. “It was nothing like I’d envisioned.” Having imagined being confronted by a dark, dingy, questionably legal operation, Huizenga understood why other investors might not see the potential in a video-rental store, but he had seen the numbers. “Everybody thinks this is a bad deal,” he told his eagle-eyed partner at the time, “but these are going to catch on.”

“Catch on” turned out to be a gross understatement. “Over the next seven years, we opened up a new Blockbuster every 17 hours,” said Huizenga, whose team made lots of millionaires with their transformation of Blockbuster, which had gone public before they assumed ownership.

Huizenga called the decision to invest a “no-brainer” and said his earlier experience with Waste Management taught him to appreciate finer points of the rental business. “I grew up in the garbage business,” he said, noting that he succeeded where others had failed because he rejected the idea that garbage pick-up was a trucking business: “To me, it was a rental business.”

Video rental, said Huizenga, was an especially attractive variation on the theme, as Hollywood studios would provide an endless supply of fresh content. “When you open up a restaurant, you have to change the menu every couple of months to keep it interesting,” he said. “We had a new product all the time.”

As Blockbuster’s popularity exploded, the hours were long. “At Blockbuster, my day would start somewhere between 4:00 and 4:30 a.m., but I loved what we were doing, and I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning,” said Huizenga, who in addition to purchasing the Dolphins in 1990 also was instrumental in bringing the Florida Marlins baseball franchise and the Florida Panthers ice hockey team to the Sunshine State. “When your stock’s up and you’re making lots of money and guys are high-fiving, it’s great. It’s like winning the Super Bowl.”

Huizenga paused, then smiled sheepishly at the assembly of professional football players. “Of course, I wouldn’t know about that.”