Paul G. Coulombe, University of Maine alumnus and president and chief executive officer of White Rock Distilleries, Inc., endowed the Paul G. Coulombe Scholars Fund in 2010. When fully funded, the scholarships will benefit a minimum of four students per year (one from each undergraduate class), with first preference given to financially needy students.
“I’m very fond of my alma mater and I think it’s important to support our state university,” said Coulombe, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1975. “When I learned that the need for financial aid has grown over the last few years, in part because aid has dropped off at the federal level, I was more than happy to make a gift to help the young people in our state who may not be able to afford an education.
“The University of Maine is a great school with an excellent business program,” he said. “I believe in supporting UMaine because it works to strengthen the economy and make the state a better place to live. It’s a key ingredient to the success of the state as a whole.”
Founded in 1928 and acquired by Paul Coulombe’s parents in 1971, White Rock is a leading manufacturer and importer of fine spirits and liqueurs and operates a state-of-the-art facility in Lewiston, Maine. When it started, the company had three employees and a 10,000 square foot plant and was selling just 25,000 cases a year. Over the next 30 years, two generations of the Coulombe family built White Rock into a major industry player through acquisition, expansion, and development of new technologies. Today the company boasts sales exceeding 3.5 million cases, has 250 employees and does business in all 50 states and in about 20 countries.
“It’s exciting to have been part of the growth of my family business,” said Coulombe, who was born in Lewiston and graduated from Lewiston High School. He began work at White Rock after graduating from UMaine in 1975 and was vice president of marketing and a sales manager before being named CEO in 1995. “The marketing aspect excites me the most because it drives revenue. Good marketing and advertising make the difference between a company’s success or failure. You can make all the products you want, but it’s really about getting the word out and creating a demand.”
Key to building White Rock into a major industry player was daring to take risks, Coulombe said. “Being creative and innovative and willing to try new things has been our creed. We were always willing to try new concepts, whether it was new flavors, product lines, or packaging. We were involved in acquisitions and expansions and we developed new technologies in packaging and machinery, but we always believed that having a sense of what’s going on in the marketplace and staying up with the latest fads and trends was the way to be successful and to set ourselves apart.
“We had our share of failures, but we learned from every one of them,” he continued. “It’s all about tenacity and hanging in there when things look darkest. Some people give up. I was raised a different way – you just keep going and work even harder.”
President of his Class and of Phi Mu Delta Fraternity, Coulombe stayed busy and active at UMaine. The training and skills he acquired in his finance, accounting, and general economy classes stood him in good stead throughout his business career. “The best course I ever took required students to run their own fictitious company,” he said. “We had to compete against each other as we applied the business theories we learned in class. We had to understand finance and marketing and know how to regulate inventory and sales. I learned some great lessons in that class. It had a huge impact on me.”
Coulombe’s advice to undergraduates: Aspiring entrepreneurs should become well versed in basic business principles such as finance, accounting, banking, marketing, management, and even law, he said. “All those courses are more important today than ever. Then, continue your education, get an MBA, and take a position in a large, global company. Once you have a few years under your belt, go out on your own or work for a mid-sized or smaller firm. You’ll be a better business person in the end.”