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Wayne Weaver's Long Bomb


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WAYNE WEAVER'S LONG BOMB

Former shoe salesman J. Wayne Weaver "has the type of personality that will win anyone over if they spend some time with him," says K.S. "Bud" Adams. Adams ought to know. In late November, Weaver stunned sports fans by persuading National Football League owners to sell his underdog Jacksonville Jaguars a franchise. Adams was one of the owners who voted for the deal.

Weaver and Jacksonville were long shots. The Florida city's television market ranks just 54th in the nation, and the NFL had created an expansion team in Charlotte, N.C.--another southern city--a month earlier. Buyer groups from St. Louis and Baltimore had been considered the front-runners. "I certainly knew that Jacksonville wasn't one of the favorite cities," Weaver concedes.

But the long odds didn't daunt the hard-nosed Weaver, a self-made millionaire who never earned a college degree. "He hasn't gained the net worth he has by being a patsy," says Carl N. Cannon, publisher of Jacksonville's Florida Times-Union. Flush with the proceeds from initial public offerings this year of Nine West Group Inc. and Shoe Carnival Inc., the two shoe companies he built into thriving enterprises, Weaver is worth about $300 million.

FANCY FOOTWORK. The 58-year-old Weaver has had to scratch for every success. "I learned early in my career that there's no free lunch," he says. Born in Columbus, Ga., about 200 miles northwest of Jacksonville, he dug ditches and delivered mail as a teenager before signing on as a local shoe salesman with St. Louis-based Brown Group Inc. He spent 20 years at Brown before joining Nine West, then a small shoe importer, as CEO in 1978. Nine West grew to $500 million in sales by 1992, when he resigned to run Shoe Carnival, the $160 million Evansville (Ind.) retailer he had purchased in 1988.

Weaver had to do some fancy footwork to pull off the Jacksonville deal. His brother Ron, a Jacksonville businessman who was part of the original NFL buyer group, talked the shoe salesman into leading the effort last March. But by July, the deal looked close to dead because the city council refused to agree to Weaver's demand that it finance any cost overruns on a new stadium. Weaver's group quit--reentering the race only after prodding from the NFL and local boosters.

Prospects finally got a big boost in late August, when Jacksonville's city council caved. It will pay up to $121 million for stadium renovation and practice fields, plus more for concession workers and ticket takers. Not everyone likes the deal. City Councilman John Draper, who voted against the lease, says: "We're giving away a lot of taxpayer money. I'm glad we got a team, but I wish we had done a better job negotiating."

Even then, Weaver announced he wouldn't make a bid until local businesses bought 10,000 season tickets at $1,500 apiece. They did. That solidarity helped convince the NFL of the city's commitment, league owners say. Just as important, though, was the lure of profits for all. Weaver guaranteed that visiting teams would pocket $1.1 million for every game played at Jacksonville's 80,000-seat Gator Bowl. Visitors normally collect $600,000 a game from their 40% share of ticket sales. The promise turned heads. "He has made a lot of money, and above everything else, the other owners look at the zeros at the end of your bank account," says Fred Edelstein, editor of Edelstein Pro Football Letter.

TEAMWORK. Weaver is jubilant. "There's nothing I could have done that would have been more challenging," he says. But his real challenges may just be starting. He and his minority partners, who include Florida gubernatorial candidate Jeb Bush, son of the former President, must fork over a $140 million franchise fee to the NFL and will need $70 million more for start-up expenses. And until 1998, the team will receive only a half-share of national TV income. No matter, says Weaver. "It takes a lot of teamwork from a lot of people to be successful in business," he says. "When you can instill that trait in your people, you can grind your competitors up."

Weaver knows something about grinding, too. In 1989, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. His training regimen: workouts on the stairs at Nine West's Stamford offices. Two years later, he ran the Boston Marathon, even though he hadn't run more than five miles until three months before the race. That's the sort of toughness Floridians cotton to. Jacksonville, caught up in Weaver's enthusiasm, has taken to calling itself "Wayne's World." Party on, Wayne. J. WAYNE WEAVER

AGE 58

BORN Columbus, Ga.

EDUCATION Jordan High School, Columbus. No

college degree.

FIRST SHOE JOB Salesman, Brown Group, St. Louis.

FIRST CEO JOB Nine West Group, starting in 1978. Left in 1993, but still owns

16% of its stock. Also controls Shoe Carnival, a retailer based in Evansville,

Ind.

PERSONAL Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 1989 and

ran the Boston Marathon

in 1991. Plans to run the

marathon again next year.

DATA: BUSINESS WEEK

Chris Roush in Stamford, with Gail DeGeorge in Miami


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