GETTING PERSONAL with Kevin Main, Torus Power

This profile originally appeared in the August/September 2019 issue of WiFi HiFi Magazine.

I thought I knew him pretty well. Kevin Main is President of Torus Power, and 20 years ago while we worked out of the same office, I learned that we shared a passion for wine. Since then, I have enjoyed following his social media posts, mostly about Niagara wines. Now that I co-own a winery, I invited him to be interviewed just east of Toronto at Karlo Estates in Prince Edward County to taste what all the fuss is about. In this interview, I discovered that Kevin’s waters run even deeper than I knew. Like so many leaders in the consumer electronics industry, he was strengthened by early adversity.

Kevin was born in Montreal where his father had a become a tennis champion. In 1954, Kevin’s father won the Monte Carlo Open, one of the top five tournaments in the world. The trouble was that in the ‘50s, tennis stars were not earning Federer’s $100 million annually. “Dad’s Spalding sponsorship,” Kevin noted, “brought him $75 a week. They upped it to $150 after the win, but that wasn’t enough to support all the travel, so dad decided to stop touring and married later that year. My parents were not successful in having kids together so, after several years of trying, they decided to adopt my older sister Kelly and me.”

In 1962, the Mains moved to Toronto, and then in ‘67 they all moved again to Vancouver. As life would have it, after adopting Kelly and Kevin, the pressure was off and Kevin’s parents had two more children. “I have three sisters. We were out west until my mom got sick and passed away, all within one week in July of 1974.” Kevin’s mom and dad both struggled with drinking problems which eventually cost his mother her life. “Mom had a lot of kidney problems and after my mom died, dad stopped drinking. He was out of work at the time, and supporting four kids was a tough go.” The family left Vancouver and went back to Montreal because Kevin’s father had a friend network in Montreal. “It got so bad that we were homeless for nearly six months during that time. We were farmed off to some different friends and families while my dad got himself off the booze. I went from being an innocent young kid to learning to do things on my own and fend for myself.” 

Kevin started working early. In 1975, while going to high school, he began full time from 4 p.m. to midnight at the Rockland Tennis Club. Then on weekends he began working at a 160-room hotel that friends of his family ran in the Laurentians, north of Montreal. “That became kind of a cool thing for me in my teenage years. But having grown up in Vancouver, I didn’t speak French. Suddenly I found myself up in Val Morin, and I was the only English kid.” Fortunately, Kevin’s French language learning at age 16 was aided by a French-Canadian love interest. “Either I would be isolated or learn to connect. And she was cute.” 

By then Kevin’s dad was working at the Rockland Tennis Club as the pro, and he got an offer to move to Halifax. “I finished high school in Halifax. But I would come back to the Laurentians in the summer to work at the hotel. I’d do anything; I was dishwasher, busboy, waiter, and maintenance hand.” 

Kevin’s dad was struggling to keep up and Kevin came back to Halifax to try to work things out. “I ended up taking a six-month sales course put on by the government. I got hired as a sales rep covering New Brunswick and PEI for an independent sales agent in the health and beauty aids industry, and I started selling Revlon.” Kevin spent two years on straight commission. “The first year, my expenses exceeded my commission by $10,000. It would have been cheaper to go to university!” He had moved up to Fredericton to be in the territory, and then, to address the revenue shortfall, he left to work for another company in the same industry, but with better income potential. “It was great sales and merchandising training. We had something in every part of the drug store.

During the rare times when Kevin was home and wasn’t working, he spent time at the local stereo shop, Wacky Wheatley’s. “I had a little bit of disposable income. I was listening to the Energy Reference Connoisseurs and ESM-22s and we used to hang out Friday nights and weekends. Eventually I got burnt out by the 42 weeks per year travel. So, I left that and started working at McKay’s TV.” McKay’s had seven stores, and Kevin worked at the one in Dartmouth, the head office where Bob McKay was. “Then I realized that retail wasn’t right for me.” 

In 1989, Kevin decided to move to Toronto as there was more opportunity. There he called Steve Bis at Kenwood. They had an opening for Toronto and he started in January 1990. “I worked hard. I enjoyed 11 years at Kenwood calling on the dealers in west Toronto. I met Nick Bourikas at HiFi Centre and Ernie Pinkus at Audio Magic. They were two of my biggest customers. I loved everything about it. I got to know the top movers and shakers in Toronto, and started calling on the national accounts like Mike Pahal and Neil Willard at Future Shop, and Keith Laird at The Brick. Then I looked after managing and training the Ontario reps as well. It was a great experience.

“There were people I worked with who inspired me. I did a lot of business with Frank Annecchini of 2001 Audio Video, and I really respect how he does business. Principled guy. Methodical workhorse. Guys like Bob Unger at Erikson. Stephen Baker and Phil Smith at Kenwood all had a profound influence on me. And there’s Guy Pellerin. At the time he was known as the Tony Soprano of Northern Ontario. Guy and I became very close, and in 2002, he stood with me as Best Man at my wedding.”

Guy Pellerin introduced Kevin to Andy Redmond of Jonic. Andy needed someone to help him with ExpressVu sales and the relationship with Bell. It was during this time that Kevin married his wife, Heather. “We tried to have kids, but like my mom and dad, we were not successful. It was such a demoralizing process. We started looking at the adoption process. They actually have tradeshows for kids who are up for adoption. It’s surreal. You go to booths looking at the kids like an adoption trade fair. One day I was outside doing some stuff in the yard and Heather yelled at me to come see.” She had found their son… a picture that struck her which she couldn’t move past. “We pursued it with the Peel Children’s Aid Society, and adopted Matthew in 2006. He was born to a birth mother who abused cocaine and alcohol. He was withdrawn at birth from a cocaine addiction and taken away from his birth mother and put into a foster family. He was in a great place, but they were unable to adopt him so it was fortunate for us. We went through the process. I thought we had something in common. I was adopted, our dog was a rescue, so everybody in the family was adopted except Heather. I had thought the day that we adopted Matthew would be a landmark day for us, but it was the complete opposite. We were tearing this kid away from a family who loved him. It turned out it was a terrible day and not the celebration I had envisioned. The foster family had taken Matthew from the hospital when he was two weeks old and they gave him a really great environment. So, taking him away from that was really tough.”

Although Kevin was only at Jonic for a couple of years, it was a great stepping stone. He then joined Erikson and worked 11 years for the firm under Marty Szpiro, President. “It was a great ride. They were a powerful company with JAM Industries’ big resources behind them. We were doing over $200 million at the time, $40 million of it on the consumer side. Marty had a big influence on me. He and I could have an off-the-cuff 15-minute walk between hotels at CES ‘Vegas and lay out the market plan for the next year.” 

In 2003 Kevin made an important decision. “I hadn’t gone to university and I had always felt that I had missed something important. So I approached Marty about this. He is a Queens alumni and he encouraged me and was flexible enough to allow me to do both. I got accepted to do an intensive two-year executive MBA program at Queen’s University and graduated with the MBA in 2005. In all my previous experience, I had never been part of a team. I had been a loner. But at Queen’s, they broke us into teams, and it was so enlightening to me to discover how powerful teams could be.” 

At the same time, Kevin had a strong desire to leave something for his son, Matthew. “In 2001, I had some breathing problems that were diagnosed as a blocked artery in my heart. I really wanted to leave something for Matthew, just in case I wasn’t around to see him grow up.”  What started as a letter to his son turned into a book called ‘Do you want some pepper?’ “I wanted to help Matthew through his teenage years. The book talks about some of the subtle life lessons I learned. Each chapter tells the story of how I learned those lessons.”

Kevin heard about an opportunity with Torus Power. “After talking to some reps and dealers in the U.S., I was blown away with how positive everybody was. So, I had some meetings with Steve Nolan, Vice President of Plitron Manufacturing, and I joined the company in June 2014.” 

Howard Gladstone started Plitron in the mid ‘80s. He made toroidal transformers for manufacturers like Krell, Bryston, Mark Levinson, and Nelson Pass. Torus Power was originally developed by them in 2004, but in 2016 Howard and Kevin became business partners when Howard sold Plitron to Noratel and Torus Power Inc. was established as an independent company. “Howard is a man of his word and we had a deal on a handshake for two years before we formalized it. We’re now doing business in 35 countries…Europe, Asia, and South America. It’s a great new experience for me to be involved in the equity of the business. I’ve learned so much.”

Listening to Kevin tell his story, I realized that he may not have described it all in one sitting before, and there were moments when I could see his eyes reflecting on the epic scale of his journey and the gravity of the obstacles he had overcome. But in classic Kevin style, he just shrugged his shoulders and offered up, “I don’t think I’d change anything. Heather and I knew there would be some years where we worked non-stop. But now we are in a good place. We have a son we love, and enough time to do fun things like visit wineries.”