AutoNation and Waste Management founder H. Wayne Huizenga dies at age 80

  • H. Wayne Huizenga built from scratch three Fortune 500 companies: AutoNation, Waste Management and Blockbuster. He died at the age of 80.
  • He passed at 10 p.m. on Thursday after succumbing to "a decades-long battle with cancer," Bob Henninger, executive vice president at Huizenga Holdings, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
  • Huizenga was also a fixture in the Florida sports world, as the former owner of the NFL's Miami Dolphins, the NHL's Florida Panthers, and MLB's Florida Marlins.

Billionaire AutoNation, Waste Management and Blockbuster founder H. Wayne Huizenga has died at the age of 80.

Huizenga passed away at 10 p.m. on Thursday at his Fort Lauderdale, Florida, home after succumbing to "a decades-long battle with cancer," Bob Henninger, executive vice president at Huizenga Holdings, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson told CNBC's Power Lunch that his former boss, mentor, and best friend had "a keen intellect" and "a tremendous sense of humor."

"Everybody had to work as hard as he did. But it was so much fun you didn't care," 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."

Born in Evergreen Park, Illinois, Huizenga founded the nation's largest car dealership in 1995. But his legacy is much more expansive, as Huizenga presided over a business empire including garbage collection and professional sports teams.

That's how he amassed a net worth of more than $2.8 billion, according to Forbes, landing at No. 288 on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans.

It all began with a waste pickup service that Huizenga started at the age of 25. That business was consolidated with numerous other garbage companies to create a giant, Waste Management, which went public in 1971.

In 1987, Huizenga and a couple of other investors purchased Blockbuster and grew the late video rental company from more than 10 stores to over 3,000 worldwide before it was sold to Viacom in 1994 for $8.4 billion. Huizenga told The Washington Post that he "cried like crazy" when he decided to sell Blockbuster. "I didn't want to sell it. I loved that business," he said. But Huizenga said he "could see the technology was changing."

Blockbuster closed almost all of its stores in 2013 due to competition from rivals like Netflix. There are still a few locations in remote areas.

H. Wayne Huizenga in 2007.
Marc Serota | Getty Images
H. Wayne Huizenga in 2007.

In the '90s, Huizenga started AutoNation, now the largest car dealership in the U.S. Huizenga stepped down as chairman in 2002, but stayed on the company's board of directors before leaving in 2004. "I am tired of corporate board meetings. I am an entrepreneur at heart," he said, according to a report from Automotive News on his departure from the AutoNation board.

Around the same time he was launching AutoNation, Huizenga also co-founded hotel chain Extended Stay America. After growing the company to nearly 500 locations, it was sold to the Blackstone Group in 2004 in a deal valued at $3.1 billion.

A frequent guest of CNBC while running his business ventures, Huizenga was also a fixture in the Florida sports world, as 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. In 1997, when Huizenga owned the Marlins, the team won the World Series.

The businessman and his late wife Marti were major philanthropists to South Florida organizations, donating millions to charities such as the Boys & Girls Club of Broward County, the Humane Society of Broward County, Holy Cross Hospital and Junior Achievement. They were longtime residents of Florida.