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Maine's 2012 Small Business Person of the Year
In 2003 Michael Cote purchased the assets of AM Cannery, a business that was in the process of closing down and through hard work, dedication and tremendous enthusiasm for his business transformed it into not only a successful business, but one that is recognized worldwide and serves to represent the State of Maine. In the nine years Mike has owned Look’s Gourmet Food Company he has succeeded in rebranding and revitalizing the business. Through his creative vision he succeeded in rebranding and marketing his company’s traditional Maine products while developing new products to meet changing market demands retaining the jobs that would have been lost had the cannery closed and creating new jobs in Down East Maine.
Mike is a true “Mainer” born and raised in Auburn, Maine where he learned his strong work ethic from his parents who provided for Mike and his three siblings by working in the textile mills and shoe factories. He began working himself while still in school and while attending Maine Maritime Academy Mike realized the financial stress associated with two children in college was too much for the family to sustain so after one year he left school to enter the work force full time. His acumen for business and sales was quickly realized when he bought a Pepperidge Farm bakery distributorship in Western Maine that had a history of not being successful yet managed to double sales volume in the first year and based on that success the company encourages him to sell the distributorship and join them as a District sales manager. He quickly moved up through the ranks to the position of Regional Vice President and was recognized as “The Mechanic” because of his ability to fix things. Mike not only recognized, but addressed a multitude of missed opportunities for distribution and developed a strategy to successfully address those deficits and was promoted to the position of VP of National Alternate Channels where his reputation as a hard-worker with a can-do attitude brought him to the attention of the CEO of Odwalla who offered him a new opportunity as their Sr. VP of National Sales. He was so successful in that role Odwalla was targeted for acquisition by Coca-Cola.
Mike identified his next challenge in 2003 and chose to purchase the assets of a historic Down East seafood processing operation that had been family run for 85 years. He was able to save a business that had been unable to adapt to the changing marketplace. Through his hard work and extensive business knowledge with the assistance of Union Trust Company and the SBA Mike was able to turn that business around and in eight years has re-designed a company that was destined to go the way of the dinosaur into a vibrant and well-recognized brand with The Bar Harbor line of foods sold nationally in over 30% of the US grocery stores and in natural and specialty venues like Whole Foods Markets. On top of all of this, Mike still manages to find time to offer his assistance to others through his position as the current chairperson of the Maine Food Producers Alliance. He has also served on the Distributors Council of the Natural and Specialty Food Trade and on the board of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council. He was recently appointed to serve on the Regulatory Fairness Board for the State of Maine. And not one to let US borders hold him back, Mike will soon be traveling to El Salvador to assist the Business Council for Peace in analyzing small business candidates and how that organization can best serve their target audience of fast growing entrepreneurs in post-conflict countries. Mike’s story should serve as an inspiration to entrepreneurs everywhere, but especially here in Maine where through hard work, determination, and innovation he has built a brand that is recognized worldwide while keeping jobs in Down East Maine.