What we do in our life is often felt, noticed, and remembered by those closest to us. For some persons, their impact is bigger, and their life’s deeds, principles, and legacy reverberate throughout a community and country. The Late Calvin Washington Lake led such a life and left such a legacy.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to sit with the eldest son of the Late Calvin Washington Lake to discuss his life and legacy. Mitchelle (Mitch) Lake is passionate and proud when talking about the attributes and characteristics his father exemplified and justifiably so.
We often look outward for successful persons we can emulate when powerful success stories can be found right here in Anguilla. Calvin Washington Lake set a great example for his generation, this generation, and generations to come. He was a husband, father, contractor, successful businessman, pioneer, teacher, and problem solver. He left an indelible mark in Anguilla and has a story we can all learn from.
Thanks to the Lake family for trusting me to write the story of the life and legacy of The Late Calvin Washington Lake.
Humble Beginnings – The Growth of ABC Supplies
ABC Supplies began operations in February 1997 in a compact 400 square foot space adjacent to the family’s dwelling house in The Forest. As interior space was very limited, materials for the business which could withstand outdoor conditions were located outside the property. When the business first opened, it sold limited products such as a bundle of plywood, a bundle of 2 by 4’s, nails and a few other products necessary for building and day to day living.
The business was relocated due to the airport expansion and reopened on April 26th, 2013. April 26th is the birthday of the late Mr. Calvin Washington Lake. ABC Supplies is now housed in the Calvin W Lake Commercial Building, a 16,000 square foot space that was built with a vision to promote the growth and expansion of the business. From its humble beginnings, this modern, spacious edifice, now has over 22,000 products in stock.
The business and building will ensure that the legacy of the late Calvin Washington Lake lives on for generations to come. His four children and wife, Mrs. Janet Lake continue to build the business on the principles and values of customer service and relationships with suppliers that the late Mr. Lake instilled.
These principles and values are shown through the stories and words of wisdom about his father shared from the memories of Mr. Mitch Lake.
The Late Calvin Washington Lake was a father who planned for the future of his children
Mr. Lake always said, “The family that stays together, wins.”
The late Mr. Lake not only built a business from scratch, but he taught his children how to run the business.
He said to his children often,
“It is important that you take a leading role in what I am doing because I am not doing it for me, I am doing it for you. There is no sense in me doing this if you are not going to take care of it.”
He instilled in the family the importance of playing an intricate role in what is yours because he understood that people preserve what they help to create.
Mitch is very protective of ABC Supplies because he helped to create it. He shared,
“My father knew he wasn’t going to be around for long and he had to train his own. He knew the only way the business would continue was if we all had a role in its development and sustainability My father ensured we all had a role in the business even when the business was small. Our roles covered areas including finance, ordering and customer relationships and staff development.
My father also compartmentalized aspects of the business. He had separate accounts for blocks and steel and gas for example and he had each of us deal with one aspect and allocate the money to various accounts. His reason for separating each entity was to recognise the importance of being able to track how well each aspect of the business was performing. This allowed various aspects of the business to borrow from each other and give back the money when the low performing aspect of the business was able to. It was also valuable business training for the family.“
The above helped to sustain ABC to where it is today and help the family to work together, the way they do today. The business today has 15 staff members, and all four children still play important roles.
“We are doing a good job in my opinion of keeping his legacy alive, not just in the business but in celebrating his life as well by continuing to give back to the community and maintaining those relationships with suppliers and customers he created over the years.”
The Late Calvin Washington Lake was a Self-taught Successful Business Owner
Calvin Washington Lake left school early because he was the oldest child and had to help support his family. He never graduated from High School but had a natural knack for understanding life and business which rivalled persons with Master’s and Doctorate degrees.
Mr. Lake built a business in a unique way that could not be replicated or duplicated by anyone today. He built his business debt-free. He built his business on his word. Mitch recalled that if his father told you he was going to give you something, you had it, it was done. He never went back on his word.
Mr. Lake did not have to find capital to buy materials. He was given the material on 30- or 60-days credit and he would pay his suppliers back before the due date. Suppliers came from Puerto Rico and gave Mr. Lake large amounts of credit for his business because they knew he was reliable and trustworthy.
His reputation preceded him, and his suppliers would tell other suppliers who would fly to Anguilla to meet him on his porch to ask for his business because he never travelled. That is the outside of the box way he developed his business and relationship with suppliers.
Today many businesses do not have a business account, and many put all their money directly onto their personal account. Without any formal training, Mr. Lake knew that was not the way to operate a business. He operated each aspect of his business on its own merit and paid himself a salary.
He said, “I need to know how the blocks are doing on their own merit. Steel, if necessary, can borrow from blocks until healthy and then steel can pay blocks back.”
Mitch recalled that when his father helped him to purchase his first car, his father was able to take money from just one of those accounts.
Mr. Lake was very careful with dealing with money. He knew how to make money. He never boasted about money, never showed you he had money and never squandered money.
A Jac Shirt and Business
Mitch shared another example of his father’s business acumen and business system.
Mr. Lake always wore a Jac shirt with two pockets. The business had a delivery service for steel and other materials. He would arrange his delivery at a certain time after a certain number of purchases. He would plan the most efficient route for the delivery and would leave for delivery with the tabs for each customer in the left pocket of his Jac shirt. After each delivery, he would sort his tab and place the tab in the right pocket of his Jac shirt. His systems ensured that he kept immaculate records of his transactions.
When he returned to the house, he would finish work at 2 pm every day. He would take his exercise book and a black, red, and blue pen. In his book, he would clearly write who had paid with dates and amounts in black and in red customers who still owed. He kept clean and tidy handwritten accounting records. When he died unexpectedly the family were able to use these records to gauge the state of the business and contact those who still owed.
As Mitch said, “You couldn’t have scripted how my father left a blueprint for us to continue the business.”
A final example of Mr. Lake’s business insight is shown through the philosophy below.
He said, “In this business, you must protect the front and the back equally. If I come to the front and I purchase something and I go to the back and I take more, you lose. If I came to the front and I don’t purchase anything and I go to the back and take it, you lose. You must always protect the front and the back of your business. If any of these are left vulnerable, close your business because it will close you down.”
The family has held firm to this insight and today the back of ABC Supplies is just as clean as the front.
Mitch shared, “It must be as organized, otherwise you lose. People come to the back and say it is so clean and organized. I say in addition to me being a cadet, I was taught by a wise man to always protect the front and back.”
The Late Calvin Washington Lake had Exacting Standards
Calvin Washington Lake was a contractor who understood the field. He had high standards for himself and his employees. He retired from the field because he was frustrated that work performed by employees did not meet the standard required. Honest to the bone, he was uncomfortable with managing people’s money for their projects and not having the work done at its best.
Mr. Lake had several philosophies that he lived by and which he repeated often to his children. Mitch shared,
“Mediocrity was not something he would accept and those are the kinds of values he instilled in us. Growing up was tough because he expected nothing but the best and expected you to do everything the right way. He would make you do it 100 times until you got it right. These are the things that live within me today because that is the way I grew up and that is the only way I know how to do things.”
Four things that the Late Calvin Washington Lake always said are below and are illustrated with an example that Mitch recalls from his childhood.
“There is only one way to do anything and that is the right way.”
“Hard work doesn’t kill you; it just makes you better.”
“I would replace 100 men to find one good man.”
“There are no shortcuts in life. None.”
Mitch recalls being on a job site with his dad and his dad went for lunch. When his dad returned, he saw a crack on a newly plastered section of the wall. He asked his workers one question, “Did you mix the sand in the bucket per cement.”
They did not. The workers skipped that step because it took time. From the crack in the wall, Mr. Lake knew the mixture was not right. The workers had to remove the plaster and replaster everything. His standard was clear, firm, and uncompromising – No shortcuts!
Contractors who trained under the Late Calvin Washington Lake build like him. Profound words which he often repeated such as “Measure twice, cut once” continue to guide them.
Mitch also recalled that when his father hooked up gas for the elderly he never left before checking for a leak with dish liquid. He never trusted without verifying and he would never leave until he was sure. These are characteristics we do not see as often anymore.
Mitch noted as he reflected,
“I was not allowed to take shortcuts either. Looking back, I am grateful to have been a copilot. The values my father had helped to build character and helped me to really understand that if you want to compete or get things done, you must put your best foot forward. I was trained to think differently and not accept mediocrity so when you see the standard of everything that I have it is because of what my Father expected and instilled in me.”
The Late Calvin Washington Lake was an Educator
Mr. Lake never missed an opportunity to educate and give expert advice to his customers. For example, he understood that women may be taken advantage of while building so he always asked what they were building and needed. He was a master builder, so If he thought that what they were asked to buy was unnecessary or excessive, he redirected them. Mitch shared his concern with his father that he was losing money by doing this, to which his father responded,
“It isn’t about the money. It is about making sure they do it right and they understand what they are doing. This business is being built for the long haul and the money will come. If you educate your customers, they will stay with you.”
Educating customers is still a priority for ABC Supplies.
His honesty in business was unmatched. He said,
“I don’t want what’s not mine. ‘To whom much is given, much is expected.’ Once you build relationships, you will build a stronger business.’ He said I do this for two main reasons. My relationship with my suppliers and my relationship with my customers. You must take care of both.”
Mitch shared, “These were the things we heard, saw and why we do what we do.” On those same principles, ABC continues today.
The Late Calvin Washington Lake was a Problem Solver
Mr. Lake always had an answer for anything in life. Many people including business people and politicians would come to his house for counsel. Mitch would sit and listen to the conversations.
One conversation with a gentleman stood out in Mitch’s mind. After listening to the gentleman, his father told the gentleman that he would sleep on it and give his response the following day. Mitch asked his father if he did not know what to say and his father replied
” Sometimes when something is sensitive and important, it is best to sleep on it. Don’t be too hasty to decide even if you think it is right. Sleep on it a little bit to get rid of the emotion and you can deal with it on its own merit.”
Mitch knew that only wisdom could make someone think like that.
After his father’s death, people would approach him and share stories about how his father’s advice helped them to solve complicated problems, save money or make difficult decisions.
The Late Mr. Calvin Washington Lake left a legacy
Mitch and his father did not see eye to eye for many years. Mr. Lake felt that Mitch should follow in his footsteps and learn a trade to secure his future and Mitch saw a future in playing tennis. His father strongly opposed it.
The turning point in Mitch’s life and their relationship was when Mitch proposed the tennis academy and unveiled the drawings and vision for the tennis academy at Paradise Cove. It was the first time, his dad closed his business and showed up in person for any of the big moments in his life.
His father told him, “This project is pure, and it will happen.”
Mitch shared that all he had were drawings and he had no idea how it would happen, but everything just became positive for him.
He reminisced, “I gave everything I had to develop the tennis academy. The building of the academy brought us together. The time, the stories, and the moments we shared together over this project were invaluable. Truthfully, everything he said would happen did. When I opened the academy, I had one empty seat for him because I felt like he guided me along the way.”
His father did guide him even from the grave having put in place persons to help Mitch along the way.
Today the tennis academy stands proudly and continues to serve the community and provide scholarships for students. Mitch credits his father for playing an instrumental role in its development.
Mitch shared that before he died his father said, “If anything happens to me, I am happy.’ Mitch asked, ‘Why?’ He said ‘Because now you are just like me. You are ready now. You are ready now; You are ready now.’
A firm handshake from his dad when on his previous visits his Dad only gave him a limp handshake as if to say, ‘You will be back,’ felt ominous.
Mitch had a foreshadowing and felt that the repetition and handshake were significant. He was right.
After his father passed, it was easy for Mitch to move and relocate the business and to not just build something but build it to where he knew his father would be proud and in doing so exemplify a great man, a pioneer, a humble man who did great things without anyone knowing because he did it in a humble way.
When they moved ABC Supplies, Mitch did one thing differently to his father. He refused to use the money his father made through hard work and principle and instead leveraged the land exchanged by the government with the bank.
With the new building and road, there was a lot of antagonism and Mitch did not want to sully what his father had worked for and created.
Today, nine years later, the family still works together. In addition, a beautiful building and successful business stand in tribute to Calvin Washington Lake and a road named in his honour. The family continues to give back to the community in various ways.
Final Words from Mitchelle Lake on building a legacy and passing down our stories
We need to recognize the power of our people and the impact they made over a lifetime. Our stories die so quickly and because they die so too do our identity and the children have no pillars of strength to hold on to – none.
I will not allow this for my father, or my children and I will fight until the day I die to ensure his pillar of strength is solidified in the hearts of many, my children, and my extended family so they too can feel emboldened to continue and to look forward to the future with optimism rather than fear and despair. It is not about money. It is about pride. It is not about having assets; it is about sustaining a legacy because this mortal body will pass but the legacy should never die.
Contact ABC Supplies at 1-264-497-5111and follow them on Facebook.