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Steve Mills, chief executive officer of Maine Beer Company in Freeport, Maine, calls himself a “very early adopter” of the craft beer movement in the United States.
“I fell in love with flavorful beer at an early age as craft beer started catching on,” Mills said. “I was in my mid-20s when I decided to give it a go.”
Mills, 50, began his career at Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City, where he had grown up. Launched in 1989, near the beginning of the craft brewing boom in the United States, Boulevard Brewing has grown into one of the largest craft brewers in the Midwest.
There are 7,500 licensed craft breweries in the country today, Mills said. Compare that to 1984, when there were fewer than 50 brewing companies, according to VinePair.com. And VinePair is expecting continued growth, pointing out that, as of 2016, for every brewery currently in operation there was another brewery in the planning stages.
In 2010, Mills was CEO of Uinta Brewing Company in Salt Lake City when he met two brothers, Dan and Dave Kleban, at a master brewers’ conference in Maine. Mills was at The Great Lost Bear in Portland, Maine – a Mecca for craft beer aficianados – when the brothers were pointed out to him.
“I introduced myself and we became friends,” Mills said.
Mills was at a bigger brewery and had been in the business longer, and over the years, the brother would ask his opinion concerning decisions they were facing as they grew their business.
“We just kept finding each other at conferences,” Mills remembered. “They called me a couple of years ago and said, ‘Look, we want to keep this thing going. We want this company built to last. You have great experience. Why don’t you come out here?’”
Even though the move meant a step down for Mills in terms of compensation, he took the offer. Uinta is a Top 50 craft brewery producing more than 100,000 barrels annually, while Maine Beer Company will crank out about 23,000 barrels this year. But Mills liked the brothers, and he liked what they were doing in the realm of social good.
“It’s easy to get up every morning when your job is to figure out how do we take better care of the employees,” Mills said. “Which environmental nonprofits will we support, based on the performance of the company? It’s a higher purpose, if you will.”
Mills said the company will write more than $150,000 in checks to environmental nonprofits this year as part of 1% for the Planet, including organizations as far ranging as the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
The company has fully committed to solar power, setting a goal of creating more clean energy than it consumes by 2030. Mills said he can get halfway there by outfitting all of the roofs of the brewery’s buildings with solar panels, which he expects to have done by 2022.
After that he’ll have to get creative. One idea is to build carports with solar panels in the brewery’s parking lot. And remember, he’s mandated by his two-person board of directors, consisting of Dan and Dave Kleban, to do all this good.
“It’s super fun,” Mills said. “Nobody feels sorry for me, ever.”
Where Maine Beer Company’s 50 employees are concerned, they all make a minimum of $18 per hour. They all get three weeks of paid time off in their first year, and the company contributes at least 5 percent of their earnings for their retirement, whether they contribute or not.
Perhaps most envy-inducing, Maine Beer Company pays 100 percent of its employees insurance premiums.
“We have no problem attracting people, or with retention,” Mills said. “That’s a business philosophy that makes sense, especially in Maine where you have an aging population.”
Underlying all this do-gooding, of course, is a successful business that will top $15 million in revenue this year. Mills chalks up Maine Beer Company’s success to its well-defined identity, thanks to the brothers.
“We’re different, we’re quirky, we sell one bottle at a time,” Mills said. “You can’t buy a six-pack or a four-pack or a 12-ounce bottle. You can buy the keg or this weird little 16.9-ounce bottle, and I love it.”
May 23, 2019 at 06:45PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs