Lirel Holt, founder of CARSTAR, has been his own boss since age 21 — and it all started with his JA experience at Raytown South High School. JA inspired Lirel to create and launch CARSTAR and grow it to become the largest network of collision repair professionals in America. After incredible success growing, franchising and later selling CARSTAR, Lirel co-founded U, Incorporated, where he now has online training serving over 200,000 annually in the automotive industry. Lirel shares how JA laid the foundation for his career.
At Raytown South High School, Lirel’s favorite math teacher introduced Junior Achievement. When this teacher announced what was then the JA company program, Lirel was first to raise his hand and sign up. “I wasn’t sure what I was signing up for, but was intrigued to learn more, so I raised my hand,” Lirel remembers. “That year, I was the only student from my school who signed up for JA.”
Though his family wasn’t particularly affluent, Lirel’s dad knew the opportunity JA presented and made sure he got Lirel there, driving him to the meeting every week, to participate in what was then called the JA Company Program. “By the second day of the program, I was hooked. Nobody else was teaching these business concepts,” Lirel says.
“There, I met a mentor who changed the path of my life,” Lirel remembers. “The volunteer was a senior executive at a large department store and offered to be my reference when I applied for a job once I was 16.”
When he started at the store, Lirel was invited to select the department to work in. He jumped at the opportunity to work both in the sporting goods and automotive departments. “I got a behind-the-scenes glimpse of an automotive business and that was where my JA program came to life,” he says.
Lirel’s interest in the automotive industry increased as he explored further. While continuing his part-time job, Lirel also started working with his uncle to restore an old Porsche. Here, the JA business curriculum intersected with real-world application. With these wheels turning, history began to write itself as Lirel later founded CARSTAR.
“I saw a need, took a chance and franchised quickly,” Lirel says. “I saw that there ought to be an industry there. Nobody has done this before. I put a triple mortgage on my home and began to build CARSTAR.”
As Lirel converted car repair businesses into CARSTAR franchises, he realized that these shops didn’t need lessons on automotive mechanics or repair; they really just needed to learn business concepts. While the business operators were passionate about cars, they didn’t know the business skills to make their shops thrive. Once Lirel took over, he never taught a single lesson on repairing a car. Everything he taught was about business — from finance to job costing.
Within 12 months of launching CARSTAR, Lirel had built up to 100 locations. “That’s the difference between an entrepreneur and a wannabe,” Lirel shares. “There is an amount of courage it takes. You’ve got to have vision to see where it can go.”
Throughout his professional life, Lirel has started numerous companies and brought them to success using critical business concepts and a lot of hard work.
“Junior Achievement played a significant role in where I am in my life today. It gave me an early start,” Lirel says. “JA means a lot to me and my family. Currently, I mentor other CEOs and businesses and enjoy seeing them on their entrepreneurial journey. JA is helping me help future generations of entrepreneurs, and I continue to pay it forward.”