By Michelle St. Onge, Photo by Jessica McCafferty
It’s difficult to drive very far in the greater Malone area without passing a Monette family-owned business. Brian Monette and his two brothers have developed an impressive array of small and large businesses throughout the four counties in the North Country since the late 1980’s.
Brian Monette’s brother, Bruce, started Adirondack Energy in Malone in 1988, just as Brian was settling into his first job after college at PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Syracuse, New York. A few years later, Brian was home for a family visit when he and his brothers casually talked about a plan to expand the business together. Their conversation soon turned into serious plans.
“I went back to work after that vacation, put in my two weeks’ notice and we have been working together and growing ever since,” he recalled.
When Adirondack Energy began delivering heating oil it had a single truck. Today, the family collectively owns and operates over 30 businesses, including a chain of Mountain Mart convenience stores and Titus Mountain ski area. The brothers enjoy working together, and the Monette family is understandably close knit. According to Brian, there aren’t many definitive lines in the leadership roles that each brother holds. “We all wear different hats every day. We pitch in to do what needs to be done,” Monette explained, “ Since I have an accounting background, I am generally the numbers guy.”
Now that the next generation of Monettes is coming of age, the brothers are eager to bring their children into the businesses. Brian’s oldest son, Jack, and a few of his cousins have already stepped up. The future looks bright for Monette, who took some time away from his many spreadsheets to share his insights with Strictly Business during a recent interview.
SB: What important lessons did you learn early in your career?
BM: Always try to outwork the person next to you. That applies to sports and to work — basically everything. It is a lesson that I took to heart at a very young age playing sports in school, and one that I have worked hard to instill in my children.
SB: Who was your most influential mentor?
BM: I had a few mentors when I worked for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, a big eight accounting firm. I was there for a little over three years. They worked us hard, a lot of overtime hours and six days a week. It was a lot of work, but it was a wonderful experience that really taught me a lot. I still reflect back on what I learned there.
SB: What does success look like to you?
BM: For me, it’s all about family. My brothers and I have been working together all these years, and we are a real tight-knit group. We work together and we play together. Our families spend a lot of time together and that is great to see. At the end of the day, family and friends are all you have, so being part of a close family is success for me.
SB: To what do you attribute the success of your businesses?
BM: We work very hard to give the service that people expect. We have taken some chances and we have also been lucky. We were fortunate to have a successful oil company in the very beginning which allowed us to invest some of the profits in other businesses. Our goal has always been to make the community a better place, and by doing that we would make it a place where our kids could come back to and find good jobs after college. Every time we invest in another business, we get a little bit closer.
SB: If you could start your professional career over again, what would you do differently?
BM: If I could go back, I probably would have stayed a few more years at PriceWaterhouseCoopers to learn more. It was such an invaluable experience, but I’m glad I came back and started growing our family businesses up here.
SB: If you could talk to your younger self, what advice would you offer him?
BM: I’d probably tell myself to be less worried about failure. In my younger days I was very cautious. I have learned that failure can be a good teacher, so if I could go back 30 years, I would take more chances
SB: What are you most proud of professionally?
BM: Our decision to buy Titus Mountain was a big deal for our family. When we bought it, none of us had a clue how to run a ski area. It was in danger of closing, and we knew that if it did, it would be devastating for our community. In winter, the mountain generates a lot of business here. At the time, most of our other businesses provided necessary services to customers. With Titus, our customers come because they want to have a fun day with their friends and family. It was a very different feeling, and people were so appreciative that we took the risk to buy it. That was a really good moment for us and for our community.
SB: What is your favorite quote and how does it speak to you in your life?
BM: I’m borrowing this one from my son who chose this for his yearbook quote. ‘Go fast enough to get there, but slow enough to enjoy the ride.’ It reminds me that there is no guarantee the sun is going to come up for anyone tomorrow. So, no matter what happens, you should try to enjoy every day that you have. Enjoy the people who matter the most to you, and have a good time as opposed to being serious all the time.
SB: What do you do in your free time?
BM: I have three kids, and two are still in high school. They all play hockey, so I spend a lot of time watching them play in ice arenas. In the summer months we like to be on the lake. I seem to make a lot of left turns driving the boat for them while they are water skiing, surfing or tubing behind it.
SB: When you find yourself having an off day, what do you do to get back on track?
BM: When you call my cell phone and get voicemail, you will hear my daughter’s voice when she was probably two years old. If I’m having a really bad day and things aren’t going my way, I’ll call my own voicemail just to listen to that funny message. She’s 15 now, but I still haven’t changed that greeting. Listening to it helps me get back on track.
SB: How would you like to be remembered?
BM: I would like to be remembered as a really good Dad. No matter how busy we got, or how much we had going on within the businesses, I always put family first. At the end of the day, I want to be known for the kids I raised versus the businesses we did.