Name: Nick Alberding

Age: 57

Title: Chief executive officer

Company: Pine State Trading Co., Gardiner

About: Leading distributor of beverage products (spirits, wine, beer, water and other non-alcoholic beverages) in Maine.



What’s your biggest challenge right now?

I don’t know if it’s the biggest challenge, but the biggest opportunity I have right now with the labor market the way it is and the (low) unemployment is to continue to create an exciting culture and working atmosphere and be a top choice as a company where people want to work. That’s a big part of my focus.

We work in the beverage business, and it’s a fun business. I want to have a really fun environment here and continue to make it a good place to work.

Culturally, we’re a family company, owned by my two cousins and me. We’re third-generation, 32 years into it. One way we can do it is make people feel like part of a big family. We have about 440 employees, so it’s a good-sized company, but not so big that we can’t know people by name. We keep a top-notch facility with new technology, and it’s a new building on a big campus. From a culture standpoint, we really focus on people feeling like they’re part of an exciting business and have a hand in its success. The way you do that is to show up every day, engage with people, empower them and make them feel good about what they’re doing. I use the analogy of pushing a boulder up a hill. The minute you stop pushing, it’s going to run right over you. You should do that whether the unemployment rate is 3 percent or higher. But when it’s 3.5 percent, it’s tough to come by people that are excited to come to work. We focus on that anyway, but I am hyper-focused on that right now. We have very little turnover. I think the people who work here love the industry, but they like the family touch. We probably have 10-15 open positions depending on the time of the year, out of 440.

What skills do you value most as an employer?

We have everything from warehouse staff to transportation drivers to IT people, finance people, customer service and so forth. We touch a lot of different skill sets. In an interview, no matter what the position, we look for people that are engaging and want to learn. No matter what position they’re interviewed for, I think we look for some basic things. Do they have a passion to learn and grow. No matter where they come in to the company, are they excited about getting to another level and another level and another level? You try to feel that out through the interview and recruiting process. Every position requires different skills. But if you can find people who are driven to grow they’ll find a way here for sure. We have dozens of examples of people who have started out in one position at the company and five years, 10 and 15 years later end up in a different part of the company. They can start at an entry level position and end up as an executive. Most of the senior people here started out years previously in a growth position. We rely on it, particularly now. We rely on that next person up mentality. When there’s an opportunity in the company, we usually get a multitude of interest from within the company. We do a lot of promoting from within and backfill from there.


Who has been your biggest influence in business?

My uncle Charlie Canning, who hired me in 1987. He passed away about five weeks ago. I spent years and years and years working at his side and certainly under his tutelage in various positions. There were other senior people in the company that influenced me, but if you ask me who the biggest influence was, there’s no question it was my uncle Charlie. He taught me at the end of the day no matter what to treat people with respect. He may have had a great business story, where he was a second generation leader with my uncle Jack. They had a lot of success. When you got to know him, he was very humble and no matter who it was, he treated them with respect. I don’t care how smart, how savvy you are. If you don’t start out treating people well, getting to know them, you will never make it. Particularly in a company this size, you’re going to be successful if they are successful.

I learned a lot from him from the business standpoint in banking and finance and how business flows. But he always treated everybody who worked around him with a tremendous amount of respect and I have sort of tried to do the same.

One thing about Pine State, it’s treating people not only with respect, but treating them as if they were family. People go through different things in their lives, and they spend, as you know, a third of their life or more at their jobs. Being there to support them in good times at bad is one of the advantages of frankly owning a family company and working for a family company.

One thing about Keith (Canning), Gena (Canning) and me, there are three of us — and we own the business equally and we have worked together for 32 years. For quite a few people it’s quite a surprise that if you read about third generation family companies, the failure rate’s pretty high. There have been a lot of studies about why that is. I would be remiss not to recognize that Keith, Gena and I … I tip my hat to Keith and Gena because the three of us have been able to navigate our way relationship-wise with each other, with other family, with our second generation and with the employees, which isn’t an easy feat.

So when I say Charlie is the biggest influence on me, I would say in a close second, Keith and Gena have been significant influencers and certainly partners. We’ve just been so tight together. It’s an amazing story, really, when you look at the three of us, that we have been able to stick together through thick and thin. It surprises quite a few people. The company’s been on quite a ride for a long time.


What’s your biggest concern right now?

I don’t know that I have anything keeping me up at night. You always worry about the business continuing, being able to grow the business. Can you continue to lead people well and carry it into the future?

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about staying ahead of the curve competitively and being the leader in the industry, which I think we are. We’ve got plenty of competition out there, and there are some really good companies that we compete with.

I spend quite a bit of time trying to strategize with my management team, particularly in the new year. 2019 is here, and what are we going to do to look different? We don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. We want to innovate.

I am not worried about anything significant other than growing our business; we don’t want to be stagnant.

Right now, the economy is good, and Maine is really positioned well to grow its economy. I know Maine is slower than a lot of other states in economic growth, but for a tourist destination, Maine is positioned well. Portland is obviously booming. Plenty of areas including downtown Augusta are seeing a lot of good things happening in growth.

One of my priorities is to make sure Pine State doesn’t lose traction. We’ve come off another year of growth in 2018, and we’re going to need to do it again in 2019. Laying out a strategy to do that is quite a bit of my focus.

Where will the company be in five years?

I think the company will continue to grow. In five years, we’ll be over 500 employees for sure. We’re seeing about between 5 and 7 percent growth in our business year over year. I think we’ll continue to grow. The beverage business is doing well in Maine in general. I think Pine State will be at 500 to 600 employees and will continue to be a leader. I don’t see any slow down for us. We’re positioned well and have we’ve got a really, really strong team. Frankly, it’s a young team. If we keep doing what we’re doing, I expect Pine State will continue to be a well-respected family-owned third generation business. It certainly will continue to be owned by our family.

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