The Education of an Entrepreneur

May 24

I was an entrepreneur long before today’s technology enabled me to spell the word.  I grew up in a small beach community  on Lake Erie whose population ballooned to 500 or so in the summer time.  With frequent rain and the tendency to flood, grass grew quickly.  It was necessary to cut the grass 2 times a week to prevent a jungle growth.

Many in the community were elderly and struggled to keep up or were rich people from Toledo that preferred to be on the lake.  This created an opportunity or demand for services perfect for a teenager with few skills and underdeveloped motivation.

The skill to cut grass, now known as “landscaping”, was passed from my father.  He loved to fire up Briggs and Stratton’s loudest model.  I’m sure that monster would be banned today.  If the gassy smelling  smoke didn’t kill you, the noise would leave anyone hearing impaired.  It was this feature that delighted my father.  It was his revenge against the loud partying neighbors he awakened at 5:30 AM.

At first, I loved wrangling the big machine around our fair-sized lawn, but quickly lost the flame.  In fact, about halfway through the first attempt.  I mowed fairly often, but not the most reliable employee in the family.  A neighbor noticed my labor and asked if I’d like to work for them.  The jobs paid only a few bucks, but what a bonanza compared with my family allowance!

Some of my clients provided mowers, some still owned ancient manual rotary models.  I measured my productivity by the darkening green tint of my Converse sneakers in the days before they were “designer”.  My mom didn’t allow them in the house and was very reluctant to let me enter.

One of my favorite customers was Mr. Laux.  He owned a successful auto dealership in Toledo, but spent the summer in our neighborhood.  He paid more, had a smaller lawn and best of all, had an ice-cold,16 ounce Pepsi, huge at the time, waiting at the end of the job.

As I finished one day, he needed the roof swept.  A storm had left branches and other items hanging from the eaves.  I was nervous.  Other than the mowers, no other hazardous duty had been required at my firm.  Maybe some trimming and raking, which I delegated to my twin sister, 4 minutes my junior.  His tone suggested that he wasn’t asking,  so I climbed the tall aluminum ladder to the roof.

Since it was a small house and a flat roof, he could see what I was doing.  He was very particular about everything.  My Pepsi wouldn’t come easy on this day.  I was just not getting it right so he scrambled up the ladder, amazing, because he only had one arm.   It was one of the many injuries sustained landing at Normandy in the D-Day Invasion, which I didn’t learn until many years later.

Mr. Laux, deftly handling the broom, finished the job without breaking a sweat.  I was still shaking as he kindly helped me down the ladder.

No flashes of insight happened that day.  I slugged my Pepsi and moved on to the next job.  Now, I can better appreciate the doing meaningful work in the right way and more importantly, to  value everyone’s unique capabilities.

Thanks to Mr. Laux and my dad who came home to provide an example to this silly kid, and also to those who didn’t make it back to enjoy the way of life that they saved.

performance management empowering good work choices

3 comments

  1. Bruce /

    Entrepreneurs of your tender years are hard to find these days. It seems most “landscaping ” is done by professionals these days. Enterpaneurship for kids is hard to come by these days. Thanks to a veteran, Mr. Felhauber, for hiring a 13 year old window washer.

  2. Great blog post Rick! I love the sense that everyone has something to offer!

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