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WAYNE Huizenga, the United States billionaire who founded the biggest car dealership group in the world in 1995 under the AutoNation name, has died at the age of 80 at his Florida home.

Mr Huizenga will be remembered as a great disrupter of the car dealership business model by bringing public capital raised on the stock market to assemble a portfolio of hundreds of car dealerships of all brands across America – at times numbering 400 stores.

Wayne Huizenga

He was able to acquire so many dealerships in such a short time because many lifetime owner-operator dealers were looking for an exit strategy and AutoNation, cashed up from capital raisings in the stock market, was offering very generous prices.

Car-makers feared the power of AutoNation so much that it led Ford down the path of retail joint ventures where it bought out its own dealers in order to preserve the Ford network from what is saw as wealthy predators. General Motors also embarked on a short-lived initiative to buy out its dealers.

Mr Huizenga also launched a chain of huge AutoNation used-car stores, with up to 1200 cars in stock, but these were later closed before the planned rollout across America was completed.

The company realised that the stores were competing with the used-car operations of its own new-car dealerships and instead used innovative web applications to access all its used-car stock in all of its dealerships across America via the internet.

AutoNation sells more cars in the US than most car companies.

Mr Huizenga, who died after a long battle with cancer, used the funds from his sale of the global Blockbuster video store chain to launch AutoNation, and was also a leader in waste management.

He started with a garbage collection operation at the age of 25, then consolidated that business with similar companies to create Waste Management and then listed that company in 1971.

In 1987, he and two other investors bought Blockbuster and expanded the (now closed) video rental company from 10 stores to more than 3000 worldwide before it was sold to Viacom in 1994 for $A11 billion. Blockbuster was closed in 2013 due to competition pressure from internet video downloads.

Mr Huizenga started AutoNation in 1995. He stepped down as chairman in 2002 but remained on the board of directors before leaving in 2004.

At about the same time as starting AutoNation, Mr Huizenga also co-founded hotel chain Extended Stay America that grew to 500 locations before being sold to the Blackstone Group in 2004 for $A4 billion.

Mr Huizenga was also the former owner of the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins, the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers and Major League Baseball’s Florida Marlins, the latter winning the World Series under his ownership in 1997.

He and his late wife, Marti, were major philanthropists to South Florida organisations, donating millions to charities including the Boys & Girls Club of Broward County, the Humane Society of Broward County, Holy Cross Hospital and Junior Achievement.

AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson told CNBC in an interview this week that his former boss, mentor, and best friend had “a keen intellect” and “a tremendous sense of humour”.

“Everybody had to work as hard as he did. But it was so much fun you didn’t care,” Mr Jackson said.

“The other interesting motto of Wayne – and it’s ironic coming from a billionaire – that he constantly told me, he says, ‘Mike don’t get greedy. Don’t get greedy. Just look for win-win. Be fair. Take some off the table when it’s reasonable.’
“That’s how he lived his whole life. It created countless friends, great success, and endless business,” Mr Jackson said.

Mr Huizenga was worth $A3.6 billion.

By Neil Dowling and John Mellor

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