The Spirit of LAZ: Parking czar has time for employees, community causes
By Laurence D. Cohen
Special to the Hartford Business Journal
Parking. No matter who you are, no matter where you’ve been, no matter where you’re going, once you’re done driving the mean streets of wherever, you must, well, park the damn car.
You may park on the “public” street – except when you can’t. It may be reserved for “delivery;” it may have time limits; it may be reserved for buses. Some communities come up with alternate-side-of-the-street parking, depending on the day of the week or what side of the bed the traffic commissioner woke up on. And then, of course, there are the parking meters, to remind you that life is short and space is dear.
You may have your own private parking garage, or lease from someone else. During the day, you may park in a private lot – or a massive skyscraper of a parking garage that challenges you to find your vehicle at the end of the day.
And maybe, just maybe, you’re on vacation and the fancy hotel parks your car, with a valet whisking it away to some mysterious place that you will never see. Or maybe you’re at a fancy restaurant – and the same thing happens. Welcome to dinner; give us your car keys.
The car has to go somewhere. Whether it’s just stopping for a little nap during the day, or settling down for the night, the name of the game is “parking.”
Is “parking” essential, a basic right found in the Bible or the Constitution? Or is it a frill, a luxury, gobbling up space that might be better used for statues of newspaper writers?
That philosophical squabble still exists in academia, as it has ever since the old livery stables shooed away the horses and started welcoming in the cars. Parking. You can’t get away from it.
And that’s just fine with Alan Lazowski. He wants to park your call. He wants to welcome you into the warm embrace of LAZ Parking, the fourth largest commercial parking operation in the country, with regional offices across the country, with 6,000 employees, with more than 425,000 parking spaces just waiting for you and your car.
Parking spaces. LAZ owns them, or leases them, or takes them over and manages them. Valet service at that fancy hotel? It might well be LAZ Parking that drives your car away.
It’s a strange business, this parking thing. It often operates below-the-radar.
‘You don’t grow up deciding that you’re going to get into the parking business,” concedes Lazowski, CEO of the sprawling empire.
It began when Lazowski was a student at the University of Connecticut. He recruited a few pals and they began valet parking cars at the old Frank’s Restaurant in downtown Hartford. They made money (a little bit). Alan saw the opportunity. Prominent Hartford businessman David Chase gave Lazowski the parking chores at the old Hilton Hotel – and a career was born.
Not that everyone was immediately thrilled. Alan’s dad, Rabbi Phillip Lazowski, long-time congregational leader at the old Congregation Beth Sholom in Hartford and Beth Hillel Synagogue in Bloomfield, imagined a career as a lawyer for Alan – which Alan was comfortable with – until opportunity knocked, or, at least, until the car horn sounded. It says right there in the Old Testament that Jewish boys should at least give serious thought to a career in medicine or the law. It doesn’t say anything about parking attendants.
Speaking of parking attendants (this story runs like a well-organized parking garage), what helps LAZ Parking succeed in a highly competitive industry is its employees – both the way they act and the way they are treated, which, of course, are probably related.
“Alan is a straight-up guy; no B.S., no p.r. – none of that crap,” suggests Ben Andrews, long-time Connecticut NAACP executive. “His approach to employees is exceptional; he has more minority employees than non-minority employees – and they’re not all in low-end jobs. How he deals with his people is special; he makes them part of the family.”
Once you’re hired on by LAZ, it can be hard to escape. “We have loyal employees,” says Lazowski, “many of whom started as parkers. They’ve been promoted to managers, supervisors, even local, hands-on owners.”
Gary Jones, regional director of the Connecticut Office of the Anti-Defamation League, has done some legal work for Lazowski, as well as working with him on many Jewish philanthropic causes. “He’s a very dedicated, hard-working, inspirational business person. Everyone gets involved; that’s the kind of person he is.”
Again and again, friends and colleagues express admiration for the way that Lazowski works with his employees – what he calls the “LAZ spirit.”
“I have met a number of his employees, including some of the parking attendants, and they all have respect and admiration for him,” explains Robert Fishman, executive director of the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut.
Of course, the big group hug of LAZ has undoubtedly been challenged a bit by the explosive growth and increased sophistication of the organization. Beyond the expansion outside of Connecticut to 21states, LAZ partnered in 2007 with VINCI Park, Europe’s largest parking operation, to gain additional capital and assist VICI in an expansion into the United States.
LAZ is also hand-in-hand now with Wall Street pals, as they prowl the Earth looking for privatization arrangements by which LAZ assumes management and/or ownership of municipal parking concessions – including a high-profile takeover of the Chicago parking system.
The process is controversial (as are most “privatization” ventures with government monopolies), but, as Lazowski explains it, “parking is not a core competency of a city.”
Beyond the strategic planning involved in where in the world to park your car, much of Alan Lazowski’s time is spent planning how to donate his money.
“With both of my parents being Holocaust survivors, we have an obligation to give back,” he explains. “We have an obligation to help. It’s part of the LAZ spirit. One of the motivating factors in making money is to give it back.”
Gary Jones, the ADL regional director, described the Lazowski philanthropic instinct as “time, money, connections and good judgment.” He says Lazowski is “one of the most beloved people in the community.”
Money and volunteer effort is poured into both Jewish causes and general charitable efforts – with added vigor, since Lazowski established the LAZ Parking Charitable Foundation last year.
“Alan has given back to the general and Jewish community as a philanthropist who leads by example,” explains the Jewish Federation’s Fishman.
And rumor has it, when things get busy, he’ll still valet park your car.
snapshot: Alan Lazowski
Name of organization: LAZ Parking
Title: Chairman and CEO Size of organization: Approximately 6,000 employees
Education: University of Connecticut Previous job(s): N/A
On the job
Guiding business principle: Treat people with respect.
Best way to keep your competitive edge: Never ever give up and set your goals high.
Proudest accomplishment: Helping people grow and succeed and guiding the LAZ Group to one of the largest parking companies in the nation.
Goal yet to be achieved: Strive to help the City of Hartford return to greatness.
Favorite part of the job: Creating jobs and opportunities for people. Least favorite part of the job: Not enough hours in the day!
Most influential business book: Faith & Destiny
Personal touch in your office: Photos of my family and friends.
Best business decision: Creating a team of partners within our company.
Worst business decision: You can’t win all the time but if you fail, you must fail trying.
Biggest missed opportunity: We tend to seize the opportunities that are in front of us and are always looking to be innovative and create new opportunities.
Best place to network: It is most important to be part of every community where you operate. I believe strongly in charity and paying things forward.
Best way to spot trends: Be on the ground and ask a lot of questions.
Next big thing: Innovation in technology for parking including vehicle guidance systems, parking reservation systems, and much more.....
Your pet peeve: Please don’t tell me it can’t happen. Anything is possible in life. Let’s make it happen!
City of residence: Hartford
Favorite way to relax: Being on the ocean, fishing and spending time with family and friends.
Last vacation: Father-son trip to Australia
Favorite movie: Godfather
The car you drive: Convertibles and a pickup truck
Favorite communication device: The cell phone, of course!
Currently reading: Write it down and make it happen, The Green to Gold Business Playbook.
Favorite cause: The list is long. Every Hartford agency helping the poor; the Anti-Defamation League; Hartford Economic Development Corp.; the Business Resource Center; The Bushnell; Goodwin College; Chabad House; the Jewish Federation.
Second choice career: Life coach