Resilience, Love, And Never Giving Up

Alan Lazowski
Founder, CEO of LAZ Parking
1hr 9min
October 19, 2023
About the Show

We all have choices. We can choose good. We can lead with love. My father could have hate in his heart, but he chose love and forgiveness. We're all imperfect. If you want to find fault in anyone, you can. It's better to look at the good in people.

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Alan Lazowski is the founder and CEO of LAZ Parking, the largest privately held parking company in the United States. Alan has grown LAZ Parking from being a valet parking attendant to running over 3,600 locations and 1.5 million parking spaces across 41 states. The company manages over $2 billion in annual revenue. 

The interview focuses heavily on stories from Alan's family background. Alan's parents are both Holocaust survivors from Poland; Alan’s father was only 11 years old when the Nazis invaded his village. Through an incredible story of perseverance, Alan’s father survived the ordeal and came to America to build a new life with his wife, a survivor from the same village in Poland. 

Alan credits his persistence and "never give up" attitude to his family's story of surviving against all odds. The stories from Alan's childhood underpin the culture and values at LAZ Parking today, such as leading with love, believing in second chances, and valuing employees as family.

Overall, this interview provides a fascinating origin story of a successful parking empire, from Alan's humble beginnings to running one of the largest companies of it’s kind in the United States. More importantly, it offers inspiration, wisdom, and values that any entrepreneur or leader should learn from. Alan's perseverance and philosophy is a model to follow.

Episode Resources: 

Key Moments

Alan Lazowski On Resilience, Love, And Never Giving Up

Alan Lazowski is the founder and CEO of LAZ Parking, the largest privately held parking company in America with over $2 billion in annual revenue. But his story is far more than just a parking lot – it’s a story of perseverance against unimaginable adversity and the power of family, inspired by his parents’ survival of the Holocaust.

Never, Ever Give Up. 

Alan credits his “never ever give up” attitude to his family’s harrowing tale of survival during the holocaust. His father endured unspeakable horrors as an 11-year-old Jewish child in Nazi-occupied Poland. After his village was burned down and his family forced into a Jewish ghetto, young Lazowski was separated from his mother and siblings during a “selection” – the Nazis’ euphemism for deciding who would be killed immediately, and who would be forced into labor. His mother, in order to save his life, actually threw Lazowski from the second floor of a theater window, telling him to “tell the world what happened here.” That last glimpse of his mother would be the first of many harrowing challenges in the face of death at the hands of the Nazis. 

Once separated from his family, Lazowski was swept up into a crowd being sorted for either death or the labor camps. As he  neared the front of the line to be murdered, he desperately pleaded with strangers to claim him as their son and save his life. Finally, a kind nurse took pity and added Lazowski to her family, helping him escape certain death. He lost his mother and sisters, but was able to find his father and brothers in thew woods, and survived two years starving in caves before making it to America as a refugee. He came to the new world with the shirt on his back, a burden of tragedies and terrible memories, and a wisp of hope that he could build a new life in America. The rest of his story, as related in our interview, is incredible. It is a testament to the kind of role models that our guest, Alan Lazowski, grew up with. Alan has internalized the stories of his parents and made them an essential part of his personal philosophy and moral ethic. 

This trauma of his parents undoubtedly shaped Lazowski's unshakeable perseverance, and ingrained a spirit of "anything is possible" that has driven him ever since. 

Building a $2 Billion Company From Scratch

Alan started LAZ Parking in 1981 as a summer job valet parking cars with two childhood friends. The three high schoolers began parking cars at local restaurants in their hometown of Hartford, Connecticut, naming their fledgling operation Sunset Valet. Alan hustled day and night - parking cars in the evenings while pitching new business during the day. Though he was still a full-time college student, Alan soon dropped out to focus entirely on growing his valet parking venture.

With dedication and grit, Alan and his partners expanded beyond Hartford, providing valet services for restaurants, hotels, and events throughout New England. They embraced innovation early, utilizing new technologies like automated pay stations to disrupt the parking industry. Within a decade, his company  had over 3,000 parking spaces under management. Alan guided the company through downturns by staying nimble and forging win-win partnerships. As Laz Parking grew nationally into the 1990s and 2000s, Alan never lost sight of the company's humble roots. He retained a startup ethos, empowering attendants to become managers and partners. Today, Laz Parking is the nation's largest privately-held parking firm with over $2 billion in annual revenues.

As with every great story of entrepreneurship, Alan faced incredible headwinds that he beat against all odds. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, 95% of LAZ Parking’s business evaporated seemingly overnight, and the company was on the brink of ruin. Though LA parking had never had to fire a furlough a single person in the history of their company, they were forced to furlough 7,800 people at once in order to survive. 

This step was  unimaginable for a “people-first” company that considered itself family. The pandemic was an existential threat to Lazowski's life's work. For many entrepreneurs, this would have been the end. But Lazowski resolved to save LAZ, just as his father persevered against annihilation. He tapped into the mental toughness that was taught to him by his parents to help guide the company through its darkest days. With Lazowski’s perseverance, they made it through intact. Against the odds, Lazowski shepherded his company through its gravest crisis. This perseverance is woven into the company’s DNA, and its famous rallying cry, “Never Ever Give Up.”

The Power of Family

For Lazowski, perseverance is intrinsically tied to the power of family. He was raised with values of community and family, literally seeing his father host people in their home on a daily basis. For Alan Lazowski, family was everything -  His father was a spiritual leader who counseled people day and night. His grandfather was a mentor and entrepreneur. His mother worked as LAZ Parking’s unpaid bookkeeper for 35 years. From the beginning, LAZ Parking was a family affair.

Despite enduring horrific evil, Lazowski's father chose to lead with love. He focused on finding the good in people rather than harboring hatred for his oppressors. This grace became a cornerstone of raising his children. This understanding of shared struggle and respect for all people regardless of status permeates LAZ Parking decades later. Lazowski remembers the company’s humble beginnings, and ensures everyone is treated with dignity.

This potent understanding of family undergirds LAZ Parking’s unique culture. Employees are not faceless cogs in a corporate machine, but valued members of the LAZ family. Lazowski speaks of “servant leadership” – unlike a traditional hierarchy, the parking attendant interacting with customers is the most critical role in the company.

With investment in training and opportunities for growth, parking attendants become managers, supervisors, partners. Over 65 employees have grown from attendants to owners, realizing the American Dream. By any metric, LAZ Parking has the highest retention rate in the industry. Even in crisis, the LAZ family endures. The company's perseverance comes from this culture of mutual care and support at all levels. Employees remain loyal because they are treated like family.

Partnerships are also essential to Lazowski's vision of conscious capitalism. He believes business should focus on social good, not maximize profits at all costs. By partnering with communities, employees, vendors and clients in win-win relationships, all stakeholders benefit through ethical business.

The Definition Of “Forward Obsessed”

Alan Lazowski embodies the spirit of being “forward obsessed” – relentlessly focused on growth, innovation and possibilities rather than constraints. This mindset traces back to his grandfather. After surviving the Holocaust, he arrived in the U.S. with barely a few dollars to his name, hardly speaking English. Against the odds, he was unstoppable – working overtime in box factories, studying around the clock, scrimping and saving to start his own business.

Lazowski was also forward obsessed from LAZ Parking’s earliest days. The company embraced new technologies long before competitors, becoming early pioneers of automated revenue control systems and license plate recognition. During COVID-19, LAZ converted parking lots into drive-through testing centers and secured new revenue streams.

Lazowski sees entrepreneurs like himself as the lifeblood of the American dream. By innovating and providing opportunity, small businesses embody the country's spirit of freedom and advancement. Despite LAZ Parking's massive scale, he retains that scrappy, entrepreneurial ethos.

But Lazowski isn’t content resting on past innovations. He sees parking lots as the gas stations of the future – prime locations for vast EV charging infrastructure as transportation electrifies. LAZ is partnering to install 100,000+ charging stations across its lots, and exploring other opportunities from solar canopies to last-mile delivery and vertiports for drones. Lazowski focuses not on capabilities, but possibilities – summoning that same forward obsession that drove his family and business through adversity.

In fact, Lazowski believes this forward obsession must be imprinted on a company's culture to endure. He sees examples all around him, like his entrepreneurial children and former LAZ employees who started innovative healthcare firms. Lazowski facilitates these spin-offs through his family office's venture capital arm. He views investing in others’ entrepreneurial dreams as the greatest reward.

In the end, Lazowski built a parking empire by staying true to the values etched into his family’s epic story of survival. Perseverance, family, and forward obsession have enabled LAZ Parking to triumph over every challenge imaginable. For in Lazowski’s own words, “Anything is possible if you never, ever give up.”

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