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Sunset Parking president turned struggle into success

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It’s not uncommon for college seniors to not have a plan after graduation day. The classes of 2009 and 2010, in particular, are expected to have a difficult time finding work as the economy has soured and most companies are not hiring.

But even with a plan Michael Harth, a 1981 University of California, San Diego graduate, ended up where so many college graduates end up: looking for anything to pay the bills.

Harth thought he had the perfect job lined up. During college he was a representative for Coors Brewing Co. and thought a promotion was on its way after obtaining his degree.

However, that didn’t work out.

With his degree in psychology in tow and bills to pay, Harth spent a summer valet parking.

The money wasn’t bad and it gave him a chance to meet new people, so the next summer, he did it again.

Soon he realized it was a viable business and Sunset Parking Service was born.

Harth spoke to California State University, San Marcos students during the “In the Executive’s Chair” class Tuesday about how he took a summer job and turned it into a multi-million-dollar business.

Shortly after starting Sunset, Harth pitched his idea to his two best friends who lived on the East Coast.

His friends each started their own separate parking companies, but eventually merged to create LAZ Parking.

In 2008, Harth and his friends reunited when they became equal partners after a merger between Sunset and LAZ.

“It’s like having the closeness of family without the dysfunction,” said Harth about working with his best friends.

“There’s a lot of trust there and I think that permeates through the company.”

Harth said he tries to maintain an open door policy with all his employees.

He said he believes in an inverted pyramid model of management, with him on the bottom supporting his employees and clients.

The idea of support has carried through even during the current economic downturn.

While Harth admitted his company has had to count pennies along with the majority of businesses in California, he said he is proud Sunset hasn’t had to lay off anyone.

While the economy has struggled over the past year or so, Harth told students they are in a great position to succeed.

“The world is on sale right now,” he said.

He told students that there is an advantage to being able to buy stocks and property at relatively low prices currently.

For Harth, it’s just more proof that good things can come out of difficult times.

Related Video: Interview with Michael Harth


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