We had the good fortune of connecting with Elvin Lai and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elvin, putting aside the decision to work for yourself, what other decisions were critical to your success?
Two days before my 21st birthday, my father passed away shoving me into an unknown world with unknown obligations and responsibilities. I took a month after my father’s passing and thought only about how I should move forward. In the end, only thing that mattered that still hold true today is the promise I made my father while visiting him in his casket; that I would take care of mom and rebuild the family name. I didn’t know how to do that, so I set out to ask my father’s friends, business associates and my friends parents. This became my board of governors. My group of advisors that I went to, sometimes daily, for advice, suggestions, direction and to bounce ideas. Creating this board of governors was the single most important decision of my life, gaining me access to a wealth of knowledge from people who wanted to see me succeed. There were enough nay sayers, even in my own family. I needed to surround myself with people who had my interest in mind, and who would counsel me without any personal or hidden agendas. People came off and were added through the years, but it was absolutely critical that I had that safe space to let it all out, ask questions with out fear and be educated without being judged.
What should our readers know about your business?
Ocean Park Inn hotel is a 71 room boutique hotel that has been in our family for four generations. We are an ocean front hotel, built right on the Pacific Beach boardwalk just steps from the beach. We have been successful because our community has been successful. The Pacific Beach community is a resilient and out spoken community always speaking for what is best for our community. I have just been honored by the Pacific Beach Town Council as Honorary Mayor of Pacific Beach for 2021 for my contribution over the years. My father taught me how important it was to support my community while playing chess, that I am responsible for not only my chess pieces, but also for my opponent’s pieces and also the board. The board is the community, without it, there is no business; like they say, a rising tide lifts all boats. The ships are the opponents pieces, if we are successful in supporting the community, and our business competitors are successful, we are successful as well. Doesn’t mean I don’t want to win or be better, but there is room and a way for everyone to win.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I find this question to be the hardest since there is so much that San Diego has to offer. I would need to assume that my best friend is of similar age, married with a kid(s) and has a wide range of interests. I would, of course, house them in my hotel and have then enjoy the best beaches, surf, sand and sun San Diego has to offer. There are so many restaurants in San Diego to try. Unable to name them all, I would take them to all the types of food we have, from American, Italian, fusion, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, Korean, Korean bbq, Japanese sushi and cuisine, Japanese ramen and yakatori, Chinese, Szechuan, Hot pots and of course Thai food at my house with my wife’s wonderful cooking. We would have to go explore Coronado and Gaslamp Quarter on bike, making a stop at seaport village after hitting up Tuna Dockside harbor for fresh goodies. But one can not forgot the mountains, from Julian and Alpine, to enjoying the view of Mt Woodson while in a paddle boat on Lake Poway. San Diego truly has so much to offer, not forgetting our amazing brewery scene, we could spend weeks just tasting and trying all the craft beer that San Diego has to offer.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are so many people to recognize that contributed to my knowledge and supported me all through my years. I will have to start with my lovely wife Nan. She has been my rock, the love of my life, life partner, and my foundation. If I didn’t have her by my side, in business and at home, I would not be able to do everything I am committed to doing today. Next are my parents of course, they were the most supportive but strict parents, good asian parents. My parents, Chi-Chen Lai and Li-Yun Ting Lai, were great at using everyday things and things that I was interested in as learning experiences. Not every kid got an allowance, so I feel extremely lucky. It gave my parents another tool to teach the basics of life and business without having to grind it into me unwillingly, It became ritual on a monthly basis at the dinner to deliberate and make my case for more money.
We would count the hours of work I have done at the house or tasks I was assigned to do, and I would get deductions for work done poorly or partially. When I was driving and went to college, I needed to separate out my gas bills and school supplies, because reimbursements were not equal on all things; like 50% of gas, and 100% on books. I was able to take out loans if I wanted to buy something and pay it off over time, and yes, there was an interest rate attached the to loan. One summer, it all came to a head when I had owed more than my income. I sat back in dismay, thinking, wait, wait, wait, this is not how this is suppose to work, you are suppose to give me money, not the other way around. It was an amazing learning experience, a teaching that never left me.
Speaking of discipline, I must give a shoutout to my master instructor and mentor Grand Master Brian D. Manna at Manna’s Martial Arts in Carmel Mountain. Grand Master Manna is who ingrained in me discipline, dedication to a single craft, envisioning success before acting upon it, and how to be educated about battle outcomes before a battle even begins. Honor, integrity, justice, and loyalty to country are all things we lived by day to day for more than a decade straight. This is where I learned that teaching is the greatest teacher.
I learned so much about my art by teaching it to younger classes and learned the empowerment of myself and others through mentoring. Sure, I learned how to fight, and how to defend myself. More importantly, I learned how to fight with my mind first so that I did not have to use my fists and feet. Two other individuals who have been critical in my education and success are Eric Kaufmann of Sagatica Coaching and Brian Johns of Merrill Lynch. Brian came into my life soon after my father had passed away and immediately was on my Board of Governors. He was a junior investment advisor at the bank my father banked with, and he immediately saw me as a guy who needed his help. He spent countless days and hours teaching me financial and investment terms. We talked investment strategies and money allocations; both aggressive and conservative approaches. It it because of Brian that I feel so confident doing business because understanding how money works is critical when starting up a new business.
Lastly, but certainly not least, I met Eric Kaufmann as a group coach for one of those CEO groups and I signed up, thinking this would be a great opportunity, I certainly gained much more than I had expected. Eric taught me it was okay to be me, and that I didn’t have to live a life of only proving other people wrong who wanted to see me fail.
That it was okay to be East and West, to be the bridge between two cultures and that living both is possible and my purpose. The self confidence first instilled in me by Grand Master Manna was revitalized for the business world by Eric Kaufmann. He brought back to life what I thought had died when my father passed and allowed me to see the world around me in a new light. I would not be who I am today with out these people in my life. There are honestly many more people I could give thanks to and it would take me a lifetime to thank each one of them properly. I truly appreciate everyone that has been in my life and molded me to who I am today.
Haley Hill and Chris Stone