Though the Space Coast boasts many remarkable entrepreneurs, few match the achievements of Southeast Petro’s Founder and President Mahesh “Mike” Shah. Though his corporate offices sit atop one of the highest geographical sites in Brevard County, he is a grassroots-type of businessman who prefers personal relationships with his employees and customers.
“To be successful, you must get along with people—make them like you,” says Shah. “I learned early on from my father and grandfather that you must be one with the people—know not only their name, but the names of their spouse and children, too.” Shah’s entrepreneurial journey is one that all of us can draw inspiration from.
By Indian standards, Shah came from a prominent land-owning family, although water was still hauled from the river in jugs and his home had no electrical lights. There were also no local banks for the farmers to borrow money from to plant their crops. “My father and grandfather were in the money lending business,” explained Shah. “They were very successful because they were well-liked and fair.” Shah attributes his negotiating skills today to these paternal mentors he could follow to work when he was just 9 years old.
Rashmi and Mike Shah were married June 6, 1971 in Baroda, India. With his sights on a more fruitful future, Shah enrolled in the nearby Maharaja Sayajirao (M.S.) University of Baroda, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in architecture in 1970. Shah spent five years in Africa pursuing several entrepreneurial endeavors before coming to the U.S. at the recommendation of Rashmi’s brother.
They originally settled in Connecticut, but following a couple of harsh northeast winters, Rashmi convinced her husband to move south—first to St. Augustine in 1979, where they bought and later sold a Howard Johnson Motor Lodge, and a year later to Cocoa. They bought a Best Western hotel in Cocoa Beach and their first gas station, a Shell station on Peachtree Street just north of SR 520 in Cocoa.
“In the beginning, it was rough,” recalled Rashmi. “The first six months . . . we wanted to go back to Africa.” But failure was not an option, so the young couple persisted. “For four and a half years, seven days a week, from opening until 6 or 7 o’clock at night, we worked,” said Shah. “I pumped gas, cleaned windshields, whatever the customer needed. I never took a day off.” Looking back at those days, Shah added, “The harder you work, the harder your luck works for you.”
By the mid-90s, with the couple owning close to 50 stations, BP (formerly British Petroleum) offered Shah a wholesale distributorship—a game-changer for Shah and his company. Supplying wholesale fuel opened opportunities beyond just owning and leasing real estate. Shah’s son, Summit, joined the family business in 1998 following his graduation from Tulane University, and today serves as vice president of operations, involved in every facet of the company. “Summit was 4 years old when we purchased our first gas station,” Shah reminisced. “He grew up in this business.”
Today, Shah oversees various corporations, collectively owned by M & R High Point Holdings, Inc. He has built a network of over 150 gas stations throughout the state and supplies wholesale fuel to almost 400 locations in all.
The Shahs are best known for the time and resources they have given to organizations like The Scott Center for Autism Research, Brevard Schools Foundation, Crosswinds Youth Services, United Way of Brevard, Cocoa Village Playhouse, IndiaFest, Project Hunger and Florida Institute of Technology, to name just a few.
“I believe our Indian culture best assimilates through involvement in the community,” explained Shah. “Many first-generation immigrants think about themselves first, but charity begins at home.. It feels good to show your family, friends and customers that what really matters aren’t the business profits, but rather in how the community profits—that is the legacy.” ◆