Not long after arriving in midcoast Maine in the early 1980s, Reade Brower, the man buying MaineToday Media, applied for a job shoveling snow onto the T-bar line at the Camden Snow Bowl. He didn’t get it, though, because “I didn’t have the experience.”

It was an “aha” moment for the 25-year-old Brower, who had followed his then-girlfriend, now wife, to Maine with only enough cash to last him three to six months. All he wanted was a job. Being rejected because he didn’t have snow-shoveling experience made him realize he was better off making his own opportunities. So instead of searching for another job, he put together a Christmas coupon sheet for Rockland merchants, something he had done previously in Amherst, Massachusetts.

“I became an entrepreneur only because I was never hirable,” Brower said Friday. “I never had a real job because I just don’t fit the mold.”

Nearly 35 years after publishing the Rockland coupon sheet, which within a few years led to his founding of a weekly newspaper there and other successful ventures, Brower is buying Maine’s largest media company. The properties include three daily newspapers – the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and the Kennebec Journal in Augusta – the weekly Coastal Journal in Bath and the papers’ various websites.

Ever the entrepreneur, he looks at the impending purchase as an opportunity to stabilize the delivery of news to the 76,000 people who buy print and online issues of the three Maine dailies, make operational changes that will sustain MaineToday Media, and continue the growth of his other businesses.

Brower’s purchase of the company from S. Donald Sussman, the hedge fund manager and husband of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, is expected to close June 1. The price is not being disclosed, but the deal is expected to leave MaineToday Media unencumbered by the millions of dollars of debt it inherited several years ago when Richard Connor managed the papers.

Brower, 58, currently owns four weekly newspapers in the midcoast, as well as Alliance Press in Brunswick, which prints his weekly newspapers, the Times Record newspaper in Brunswick and a share of the Bangor Daily News’ daily print run. He lives in Camden with his wife, Martha, whom he followed to Maine all those years ago when she got a job as an art teacher in Thomaston. They have three sons, all of whom are twenty-somethings living in Boston.

It was Brower’s ownership of Alliance Press, which he purchased in 2012 to control the destiny of his four weekly papers, that led him to approach MaineToday Media to see if it wanted to have its papers printed on his press. MaineToday Media’s unusual press is expensive to maintain, and Brower knew the company was looking at other options.

Sussman was receptive. But seeing an opportunity to solve the company’s printing problems and find a worthy steward of the papers, Sussman turned the tables on Brower and suggested he buy the papers outright.

Brower, who said he shares Sussman’s commitment to community journalism, agreed. He described the pending sale as a “win-win-win.”

“It’s an opportunity for Donald to secure what he put his heart and soul into, and it’s an opportunity for the newspapers to grow unencumbered now, and it’s an opportunity for us to solve our challenge, which was to get more printing,” he said.

BUILDING A DIVERSIFIED PORTFOLIO

Since that fateful coupon sheet, Brower has quietly built a diversified portfolio of businesses. The Free Press, the weekly newspaper in Rockland that he founded in 1985, will celebrate its 30th anniversary this month. Since 2012, he also has owned the Courier-Gazette in Rockland, The Camden Herald and The Republican Journal in Belfast. Brower bought and revived those three weekly papers, collectively known as Courier Publications, after its previous owner suddenly shut them down and laid off 56 employees.

A native of Westborough, Massachusetts, Brower grew up in the 1960s and 1970s doing all sorts of odd jobs, including delivering newspapers – his first “ink under the fingernails” job – when he was in junior high. He worked as a stock boy in a department store, a janitor in a factory and sold cookware door-to-door while in high school. At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in the mid-’70s, he worked as an ad salesman for the college newspaper. It was there that he fell in love with journalism, he said.

In the years after launching The Free Press, Brower also started several other ventures, including a direct-mail company that advertised to 600,000 Maine homes a week and an auto catalog with national distribution. Brower sold both to Auto Trader in 2004, which is where he made his money, although he declined to say how much.

“That was a good thing for me,” he said. “I built up a company that was very successful and I sold it in a traditional fashion based on what the company was making.”

When the news broke Tuesday that Brower would buy MaineToday Media, more than a few people had to Google his name. Although well-known in the midcoast, he has kept a low profile elsewhere in the state. But those who know Brower describe him as a skilled entrepreneur and committed community member.

“He’s a very smart, decent, hardworking guy, and I’d say as entrepreneurial as anybody I’ve ever met in this business,” said Alan Baker, publisher of the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, who has known Brower for about a decade. “He soaks up information, thinks about it and acts.”

Greg Dufour, president and CEO at Camden National Bank, also praised Brower for his business acumen. But he noted that Brower balances that with a focus on community.

“I would characterize Reade as a really great entrepreneur, a smart businessperson, and then uniquely very committed to community at the same time,” Dufour said. “He has it all going for him. His heart’s always in the right place.”

Brower credits his mother with instilling in him the confidence to take risks and not be afraid to try new things – two entrepreneurial necessities. Recently, in the wake of the news that he was buying MaineToday Media, a friend sent Brower a quote from ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

“That’s the perfect way to describe what an entrepreneur is, in my opinion,” Brower said.

While he has racked up his share of successes, Brower is humble and credits them to the teams he has compiled over the years.

“I don’t believe I’m here because of me,” Brower said. “Other people put you in this position when you’re part of a team. You’re just the manager, it’s the players on the field that bring you the championship. The Patriots don’t win all those championships without (Coach Bill) Belichick, but he’s just a piece of it.”

Brower hesitated after using the Patriots analogy because Belichick is “more hands-on than I am.”

“He’s a micromanager,” Brower said. “I learned about 10 years ago not to micromanage because if you touch it, you own it.”

Despite Brower’s lack of experience with daily newspapers, Baker, a 50-year veteran of the journalism business who began his career with The Philadelphia Inquirer, said he has no doubt Brower will be a good steward of the Press Herald and its sister papers.

“The key is that Reade has proven that he can select good management, and that he can inspire them and back them and give them room to operate,” Baker said. “People like working for him because they get a lot of authority and he’s a man who I think has instincts for good leadership, so I’m optimistic that the team he puts together will be good going forward.”

Brower isn’t worried about his lack of daily newspaper experience because he said he surrounds himself with people more experienced than himself. Plus, he won’t be making day-to-day decisions. That authority will remain with Lisa DeSisto, MaineToday Media’s CEO and publisher.

“Lisa DeSisto knows daily newspapers and I’m in good hands,” Brower said. “She’s the boss. I work for her. That’s the way it’s always been in my companies.”

TWO GUIDING PRINCIPLES

Brower said he doesn’t believe in cutting and slashing a company to prosperity. However, he also is not suggesting there won’t be potential changes at the MaineToday Media papers, which employ nearly 400 people.

Once the sale is closed, Brower expects to approach the business with the two guiding principles he’s used throughout his entire business career: sustainability and common sense.

“If you have those two things you will have a successful company, assuming that you fill a niche,” Brower said. “I’ve made some mistakes over the years, but the fact is I think if you correctly identify a niche and you have a good business plan, you can still fail if you don’t deploy sustainability and common sense.”

Those will be at the top of his mind as he approaches MaineToday Media’s high costs for printing on “inefficient machinery.”

“I think there’s some misconception that I’m coming in and saying ‘Oh, don’t worry, no jobs will be cut, everything will stay the same,'” he said. “That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is there’s a general consensus that what we need to do is what we did at the Courier. We pulled together as a team and realigned our resources the best we could.”

He continued: “If there’s something that we’re doing at the newspapers or on the Internet that is not sustainable, then we will look at it,” he said. “If what we’re doing is sustainable and makes sense and is built on the backbone of common sense, we’ll continue to do it and we’ll be successful.”

Not everyone would see the acquisition as an opportunity. The newspaper industry as a whole took in $26 billion less in 2014 than it did a decade earlier, according to estimates compiled by Ken Doctor, an industry consultant and publisher of the website Newsonomics.

Brower recognizes there are challenges ahead, especially how to reverse the revenue declines. He thinks paywalls, which prevent readers from accessing news online without being a paying subscriber or member, are a good first step.

The addition of an online paywall was one of his first decisions after he bought Courier Publications. He believes strongly that the paywall that prevents readers on pressherald.com and centralmaine.com from accessing more than 10 articles a month without being a subscriber is “essential.”

“I know you can’t give away your core product. You just can’t do it,” he said.

FINAL PROBLEM TO RESOLVE

Brower said Sussman did “90 percent of the heavy lifting” in helping MaineToday Media regain some financial stability, and that his job is to come in and fix the final problem – the printing situation.

Brower said MaineToday Media’s South Portland printing plant is a “beautiful building,” but it also contains a press that needs to be replaced. Meanwhile, Alliance Press in Brunswick has room to expand, he said.

“We have no idea how we’re going to do it, but we do know that with the volume of printing between the two entities there will be a lot of strategic value to this alliance,” he said.

The future of MaineToday Media depends on it.

“The difference in cost of doing this on the correct machinery is … a turnaround figure. It takes a business that is red and makes it black,” Brower said. “It’s like going to work every day in a car that gets crappy gas mileage and having to spend more money on gas than what you make – you have to quit your job. However, if you get a car that’s efficient and cuts your gas (cost) in half, all of a sudden the job becomes worth it again. It’s that simple.”

This story was updated at 10:55 a.m. to clarify that Richard Connor managed the MaineToday newspapers prior to Donald Sussman’s ownership. An investment group, HM Capital Partners, was the company’s owner at that time, and Connor was an investor in the group.