How an ex-dockworker turned his passion for lobster into a $40 million business

From dockworker to CEO

After getting a taste of life as a dockworker when he was a teenager, Tom Adams was hooked.

More than three decades later, 46-year-old Adams has climbed from earning $4.50 an hour to heading Maine Coast, the seafood distributor he founded in 2011 that generated $40 million in sales last year.

"I got a little salt in my blood and ended up staying with it," Adams said of his early education in the business, which included unloading boats, grading lobster and picking their meat.

After years working with the same company that first hired him, Adams decided to part ways with the business and sell the considerable stake he'd built in it.

While Adams declined to share an exact figure, he said the investors paid more than $1 million. As part of the deal, he signed a two-year non-compete, which prohibited him from working for a lobster company in the meantime.

During this time, he adjusted to life as a new father and began making plans to strike out on his own.

Tom Adams, Maine Coast founder and CEO
Source: Maine Coast

In 2011, Adams officially launched Maine Coast, which is based in York, Maine. Since then, the business has grown to about 36 full-time workers and shipped nearly 6 million lobsters last year.

One of the biggest challenges in growing Maine Coast occurred early on when Adams was trying to borrow money to start the business.

During 2010 and 2011, Adams found banks were skeptical about lending money to a company they viewed as a start-up seeking cash in a tough economic time.

But a local bank took a chance on him — to the tune of a $1.5 million loan. Adams chipped in another half million dollars, and in December, he brought in an investor, who owns a fifth of the company.

Now Adams has his eye on expansion. A second location will open next week on the Boston Fish Pier, helping Maine Coast serve last-minute orders from customers via Boston's Logan Airport and capture wholesale distribution sales in the Boston and southern New England areas.

Adams, who made a conscious decision to avoid micro-managing employees and to delegate responsibility, credits his success to having a strong team and extensive industry knowledge.

His time as a low man on the lobster totem pole also helped him relate to other people in the industry.

"It was hard manual labor, but I enjoyed it," he said.