Tom Conran
Blog Category:
Career Services

We recently had the pleasure of sitting down to chat with UA alumnus and Mister Car Wash CEO John Lai.  He talked with UA Alumni Association president Melinda Burke about his career journey, sharing stories and lessons he picked up along the way.

Lai is the CEO of the largest car wash network in the U.S. He didn’t start his career at the top, nor did he get there overnight.  Here are three key insights from his Cats in the Corner Office interview.

Be a generalist.

Lai sees himself as “a generalist at the core.” He believes that taking on a number of different roles and being open to explore new areas allows you to see how all of the pieces work together. Even though specialization is a common theme nowadays, having an idea of how different segments of a business fit with one another is a great asset to have.

It’s all about the people.

It is no secret that being able to talk to people is great for your career (and your life), but being able to connect with different types of people day in and day out is where the magic happens.  The advice Lai provides is simple: “Don’t talk above or below people, but at a level where you connect with them.”

Lai is careful about hiring the right people and enabling them to perfom at a high level. In the clip below, Lai shares a story about how the people at Mister Car Wash have the freedom to be creative and experiment.


Stay curious.

Continuous education is extremely important for any career. You need to be curious in order to keep advancing up the ranks. By listening and being observant, Lai has exposed himself to a variety of information that has helped him create an employee-focused environment at Mister Car Wash.

An avid reader, Lai has many books on his nightstand. A favorite? “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh, Zappos founder and one of Lai’s idols.


“Cats in the Corner Office” is a live webinar series where highly successful alumni discuss their career journeys, offer advice and share lessons they learned along the way.

A complete, on-demand recording of John Lai’s interview is available to all Arizona Alumni Association members. Not a member? Sign up here: