In the Jim Crow south in the summer of 1958, racial segregation was very much the norm in Glen Allan, Mississippi, a small cotton-based farming community of not more than 500 people just east of Lake Washington’s southern shore. Needless to say, this restricted world, so full of seemingly inevitable limitations for so many, was a place where entrepreneurship — especially among black people — was not the norm.
In fact, it was the exception.
Who Owns the Ice House?
That exception was Cleve Mormon, a black man of tremendous integrity who through hard work and sheer determination charted a course for his life that went against the odds, creating a legacy of empowerment for generations to come. He was a man ahead of his time.
Put simply, Cleve was a real-world entrepreneur of infinite proportions long before the term itself was even coined.
He and he alone owned the Ice House.
And back then in Glen Allan, owning an ice house, or any business of your own, especially if you were a black man, was no small feat. In fact, it was quite a feat indeed.
After all, everyone needed ice, and Cleve was the best and only game in town.
So how did he do it, and what lessons can we learn from Cleve’s extraordinary life story that still resonate with and inspire us all today?
True Entrepreneurial Partnership
That’s where our December Book of the Month pick comes in.
Who Owns the Ice House? Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur is a collaborative effort by award-winning author and successful entrepreneur Clifton Taulbert and Gary Schoeniger, the co-founder and CEO of The Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative (ELI) in Mentor, Ohio. ELI is a highly acclaimed organization dedicated to providing interactive real-world entrepreneurship education programs for individuals and organizations worldwide.
While Schoeniger’s interest in Cleve’s life was purely professional, at least initially, Taulbert’s goes far deeper.
That’s because Cleve Mormon is Taulbert’s great uncle, and it’s only as a direct result of Uncle Cleve’s influence on him as a young man growing up in the Mississippi Delta that the trajectory of his own life was forever altered for the better. In fact, the impact was so great that it has inspired nothing less than an entire teaching curriculum of which this book is a major part.
Together Taulbert and Schoeniger weave a compelling and easy-to-read narrative, capturing real-world life lessons drawn from the past that are timeless in their application. The result is a powerful story about what can happen when you have the determination to overcome adversity, no matter what your circumstances, and you believe in your own innate potential and ability to create a reality of your own choosing.
“It is our hope that Who Owns the Ice House? will reshape your image of who an entrepreneur is and what it takes to succeed,” the authors write. It “comes at a time when people are trying to succeed in the face of overwhelming odds,” and that’s precisely why its lessons are still so relevant, inspirational and necessary today. “(Uncle Cleve) is surely telling all of us that if he can, you can too.”
Who Owns the Ice House? illustrates yet once again that the entrepreneurial mindset can be learned and that exposure to it, or even just understanding what it is, can make all the difference...especially where young entrepreneurs are concerned.
In fact, Clifton Taulbert’s story is a prime example of just how important it is for anyone to have a mentor.
Taken in at an early age by his great Aunt Ponk, Taulbert somehow sensed that he was destined to become more than a field hand left to pick cotton all day long. And his aunt must have thought so too because she set him up with her brother-in-law, Uncle Cleve, who took Taulbert under his wing, gave him a job in the Ice House and taught him everything he knew.
“He lived in our neighborhood and was subject to the same social restrictions as the rest of us,” Taulbert writes about his uncle. “He had no special gifts. He had no access to wealth. He was not related to special people, but he stood out from all of us. In our world where over 90 percent of our adult population worked in the cotton fields, he was among the few who dared to count his own dream worthy of being pursued.”
And so can you…
Real World Life Lessons
Who Owns the Icehouse? begins with one simple assertion: “Entrepreneurship is a mindset that can empower ordinary people to accomplish the extraordinary!” And if you also believe that (or even if you don’t, but you want to), then this is the book for you.
Working side by side with his Uncle Cleve as a young man in the Ice House, Clifton Taulbert learned pretty much everything anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur needs to know. Drawing on his invaluable real-world life experiences from the past, he and Schoeniger have boiled it all down into eight entrepreneurial mindset lessons that anyone and everyone can acquire.
In fact, they write, these lessons “are not held captive by race, gender, geography or time. They do not require an Ivy League education, unique talent or technical ability. If you desire them, they are yours for the taking,” and here they are:
Lesson 1: CHOICE
Limitations are seemingly all around us, whether they are social, physical or emotional. But, we can overcome them. We can choose to live differently...just like Uncle Cleve. In fact, “the ability to choose the way we respond to our circumstances is perhaps the single most powerful ability we have as human beings,” according to Taulbert and Schoeniger. Unfortunately, far too many of us are blinded by our beliefs, especially when it comes to sizing up ourselves and our capabilities. “Perhaps the greatest lesson Uncle Cleve left behind is that it is the choices we make that ultimately determine the outcome of our lives.”
Lesson 2: OPPORTUNITY
Smart entrepreneurs are problem solvers. Just like Uncle Cleve, they recognize that problems are opportunities. Identify problems and find solutions for other people, and you will prosper. Those problems don’t need to be complex however. In fact, the most successful entrepreneurs oftentimes find “simple solutions to commonplace problems, solutions that (are) propelled by common sense, solutions rooted in reliability, good service—and a willingness to work long hours and take small risks.” It’s important to not become so preoccupied with managing our day-to-day lives that we miss the fact that solving problems for other people just may be the opportunity we need to empower ourselves and create a solution to the challenge of improving our own lives.
Lesson 3: ACTION
“Entrepreneurs …understand that if they do what they have always done, they will get what they have always gotten,” the authors write. While good ideas are certainly a hot commodity, it’s actually taking action that really counts when it comes to starting a business of your own. “Entrepreneurs embrace change,” assert Taulbert and Schoeniger. “They are willing to try.”
Lesson 4: KNOWLEDGE
While Uncle Cleve never had any formal schooling, “he sure did know how to treat people the right way,” Taulbert says. He also always emphasized the importance of seeking knowledge and embracing curiosity. He was a very wise man who was not afraid to learn and who sought information and insight anywhere he could find it. “Knowledge—combined with effort—is the engine that drives entrepreneurs,” according to Taulbert and Schoeniger. “As an entrepreneur, it is essential to understand the connection between knowledge, effort and outcome.” Once we do that, “we become internally driven and accept responsibility for where our life it headed.”
Lesson 5: WEALTH
As Uncle Cleve used to say, “You gotta save to have,” and “You don’t need everthang yore eyes want.” Uncle Cleve made his money, and then he held on to it. He “saw money as a tool to invest in his future, a tool that would enable him to create wealth,” the authors say. “He was willing to live beneath his means because he valued financial freedom (his goal) more than he valued the opinions of others.” Uncle Cleve developed the ability to decrease his expenses while increasing his income. It’s actually a simple concept…one that lies at the heart of creating wealth and that pretty much anybody can embrace regardless of their circumstances if they change their current mindset.
Lesson 6: BRAND
Uncle Cleve’s word was his bond. His integrity as a businessman was rock solid. He treated everyone with the utmost respect, even if they did not return the favor. He made buying from him an enjoyable experience. He left early and arrived on time. While he could never control others’ opinions of him, he could control what they observed of him, and that made a world of difference in his success. Cleve Mormon was his own man and his own brand. He owned the Ice House. The authors sum it up simply: “As an entrepreneur, your words must match your actions, and your reputation becomes your brand.” Never forget.
Lesson 7: COMMUNITY
Uncle Cleve was part of a community that would have encouraged him to settle for the status quo, if he let it. But he didn’t. Instead he chose very carefully how he wanted to respond to his circumstances. Social influence, or so-called peer pressure, can be an extremely powerful deterrent for anyone who wants to break free of the boundaries placed on them by their upbringing, surroundings or social status. But your community does not define you unless you let it. To break free, you’ve got to create an intentional community for yourself, one that will encourage entrepreneurship, if that's what you want. According to the authors, “The most effective way to learn about entrepreneurship is through mentoring—gaining firsthand experience through other entrepreneurs.” Surrounding ourselves with a community of like-minded people is again a conscious choice.
Lesson 8: PERSISTENCE
35th President of the United States Calvin Coolidge once said that, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.” He was right, especially where entrepreneurship is concerned. People who are successful in owning their own businesses do not give up. They don’t quit. “Entrepreneurship is not for those who seek to “get rich quick,” write Taulbert and Schoeniger. “Expecting success to be easy is a mistake. In fact, success as an entrepreneur may be the hardest thing you will ever do….It may also be the most rewarding.”
Order your copy of Who Owns the Ice House? Eight Life Lessons From An Unlikely Entrepreneur today from one of these fine online book retailers: Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com. Or, we hope you can find it at your local library or neighborhood bookstore and pick it up today!