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Wanna Make Dan Hanna Wax Eloquent? Ask Him How He Became King of the Car Wash

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His mother had big plans for Dan Hanna, but that was before he found love. “She guided me and trained me for the highest position in the land—President of the United States,” he says. Then, when Hanna was a teenager, something profound happened to him—he fell in love with a car wash. “I just woke up one morning and looked out at it and said, ‘Wow! That’s for me.’ ”

It still is. Today, at 54, he is the sole proprietor of Hanna Car Wash International, the world’s largest car wash manufacturing company. His is a sprawling empire with outposts in 73 countries, including the Soviet Union and China. Hanna’s company does close to $100 million worth of business a year from building and selling the car wash systems, plus owning and managing some 65 individual car wash operations.

Hanna began designing car washes while he was in vocational school in Portland, Ore. He opened his first in 1955. During the next five years he designed his original, fully automated car wash using a prototype of the machines now built in his factory in Milwaukie, Ore., which wash and polish an estimated 1 million cars a day worldwide.

On his way to building his empire, Hanna developed a management style that is hands-on, but not at all seat-of-the-pants. Since he rarely takes time to sit down, he has no private office. Instead, he spends much of the day at a lectern on wheels. Hanna answers his own telephone and frequently discusses company plans with many of his 1,000 employees. He works seven days a week, often starting at 5 A.M. On Sunday, getting away from the office, Hanna goes to work at one of his car washes, toweling down cars alongside his employees. “It’s total involvement,” he says. “I don’t have time to drink, gamble or smoke.”

All of this single-mindedness has made Hanna a rich man—his personal wealth is estimated at $50 million. Yet he and his wife, Betty, whom he met in high school and married when he was 19, still live in the house they bought 23 years ago. Though he keeps several foreign luxury cars to demonstrate the delicate workings of his car wash systems, Hanna normally drives a Chevrolet to avoid attention. But he makes it a point to run his car through the wash at least once a day, so it’s a safe bet that his is always the cleanest Chevy in town.