Eight life lessons from an unlikely entrepreneur

Bruce Mitchell
Aug 1, 2019
minute read

When thinking of entrepreneurs, Sir Richard Branson (Virgin Records, etc), Steve Jobs (Apple) and Elon Musk (Tesla & SpaceX) immediately come to mind. They are larger than life personalities who we all know, but what is being an entrepreneur all about?

An entrepreneur can be defined as one who organises, manages and assumes the risks of a business, or as someone who sets up a business taking on financial risks in the hope of making a profit.

Of more interest and probably of more use to us all, is knowing what it is about the Bransons, Musks and Jobs’ of the world that has made them successful. What characteristics do they have in common; what makes them tick. Furthermore, I am sure we all want to know can one learn to do what they do, think like they think ….

 The good news is most experts on the subject say you can learn to be an entrepreneur, though some think the risk-taking aspect is something you either have or don’t.

I chose to review the book “Who Owns the Ice House?”, as it gives one insight into the mindset of an entrepreneur. It tells a story that we can all understand. It reaches into the past to remind us of the timeless and universal principles that can empower anyone to succeed. Out of this simple tale comes such powerful lessons that we can all relate to in all aspects of our business and personal lives.

This book is co-authored by Clifton Taulbert, an African-American born to a teenage mother in the 1940’s in theMississippi delta at a time that coincided with a system of legal segregation that created few opportunities for success, much less gainful employment.Clifton’s first jobs were hauling ice and delivering it to customers, washing dishes in a restaurant and then as a doorman at a bank. From these humble beginnings he became a successful businessman and entrepreneur, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and has been profiled by Time magazine.

It was that first job in his Uncle Cleve’s ice house to which he credits his later successes in life. Uncle Cleve was a humble man, who would never have called himself an entrepreneur. He lived in a community where everyone worked as a cotton picker (a job that required nothing of one except time and muscles; no thinking, no creativity, no planning). Yet he rose above his circumstances to start and operate his own business delivering ice (a necessity of life at the time) to every household in the area(black, white, Chinese, Jewish, etc). He didn’t stop there but went on to own multiple properties and even opened a garage servicing the high value cars of wealthy white folk.

He achieved all this in a time which must have been much like the height of apartheid days of South Africa, when white did not generally mix with black, when almost every business was white-owned and those few that weren’t only existed to service their own communities.

What follows is a discussion of the eight life lessons that Clifton learnt from his Uncle Cleve.



“The mark you make today will show up tomorrow.”

(Uncle Cleve - page 33)

The ability we have, to choose the way we respond to our circumstances is perhaps the greatest power we have, as it is how we respond that will determine the outcome. We should focus on things we can change and not what we cannot, not blaming our circumstances for our failures or using them as excuses for not doing things.



“In the midst of difficulty lies opportunity.”

(Albert Einstein – page 59)

Problems are opportunities in disguise –all it takes is a change in perspective to realise this. Solutions to these problems are the true currency of the entrepreneur; the means by which they create wealth.



“… if you ain’t got nothin’ planted, ain’t nothin’ gonna show up.” (Uncle Cleve – page 75)

Planning and thinking are necessary if you are going to make things happen. Once you have identified an opportunity and gathered information on it, you need to set your plan in motion. Don’t be afraid to try something new; but focus time and energy on what you can change. Engage in behaviour that improves your life, rather than perpetuates your circumstances.

Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

Entrepreneurs are action orientated, viewing their time as currency and spending it wisely. They are constantly searching for knowledge that can expose opportunities. They are willing to test the limits and take personal risks.



“Mix ‘em up, boy: hard work and book learnin’.” (Uncle Cleve – page 89) 

There is a clear connection between knowledge, effort and reward.

Observing and listening are important. It is pointless re-inventing the wheel; rather learn from the efforts and failures of others. Be a life-long student, combining theory with practical implementation.



“If money is your only hope for independence, you will never have it. The only real security … is a reserve of knowledge, security and ability.” (Henry Ford – page 105)

Two key fundamentals to increasing your wealth are to reduce your expenses and increase your income.

We have learnt to accept the fact that someone else will determine our wages and because there are a limited number of hours in the day, there is a limit as to how much we can earn. Entrepreneurs tend to think in terms of solving problems for other people, they look for ways to find new customers, new products and new ways to solve problems.

Entrepreneurs view money as a resource to be used wisely; they use money as a tool.



“A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person.” (Jeff Bezos – page 123)

Uncle Cleve’s brand was reliability.

Your brand is the promise you make to your customers; it is the result of your actions and your actions are determined from your beliefs.

Entrepreneurs are service orientated, they go above and beyond what is expected and do so consistently. This creates customer confidence, which in turn becomes customer loyalty.



“Tell me the company you keep and I’ll tell you who you are.” (Don Quixote – page 139)

“You need friends, us all do, but picking up good ones is up to you.” (Uncle Cleve – page 139)

Entrepreneurs understand the power of social influence and their ability to create it. A community of positive influence, knowledge, accountability, encouragement and support are essential ingredients in the recipe of success.

It is crucial that entrepreneurs surround themselves with successful role models. Mentors also play a vital role providing knowledge and insight, introductions to others, in identifying one’s strengths and weaknesses and providing encouragement.



“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.

Talent will not … Genius will not … Education will not … Persistence and determination are omnipotent.” (Calvin Coolidge; 30th president of the USA 1923-1929 – page 155)

Perseverance is something we can all learn and is key to creating success.

Being an entrepreneur is hard work: 99%perspiration and 1% inspiration. Entrepreneurs refuse to fold, they learn fromt heir mistakes and they don’t blame others for their failures.

These eight life lessons (choice, opportunity, action, knowledge, wealth, brand, community, persistence), can be applied to every aspect of our lives. We can adopt them, whether we are entrepreneurs on not, to become better at what we do.  A mindset that incorporates these beliefs, sets us up for achieving greater success.

Article by
Bruce Mitchell
Bruce is an experienced Financial Director, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Company Secretary executive with successes supporting boards and management teams across start-ups, fast-growth and ASX listed organisations.


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