Countless paths open to science grads says alumnus


vince_bruzzese2_281209From science student to successful entrepreneur, via a few years as a dedicated science teacher – Vince Bruzzese’s career did not follow the trajectory most science students imagine when they enroll. The story of how he built Totem Acoustics, one of the world’s premier speaker companies, illustrates what can be done with drive, imagination – and of course a science degree from McGill.

Bruzzese began his undergraduate studies in anatomy at McGill in 1970. Upon graduation, he studied education for an additional year then took a position as a high school science teacher. “I enjoyed it and could communicate well with the students,” he recalls. “I loved teaching and did it with enthusiasm.”

However, after a few years as a teacher, Bruzzese began to consider other career options. “I told myself it was time to start a business of my own,” he recalls. “I was extremely interested in music, so I decided to look into business opportunities in that field.”

Speakers the key to delivering top-quality sound

After studying the components of sound systems, Bruzzese concluded that speakers were the key to delivering top quality sound. He decided to build a speaker on his own, utilizing his science background and guided by principles that were “a bit different.”

totem-acoustic-logo“My first goal was to build a speaker that would be flat and could be put on a wall,” he says. “We made a small prototype and we went around to distributors in Montreal. They found the product incredibly interesting, but then they would say ‘yeah, the speaker sounds great but how do we know there’s going to be industrial continuity?”

In the late 1980s, Totem Acoustics, Bruzzese’s fledgling company, geared up to do a small production run of a compact speaker, called simply Model 1. At a time when home speakers were often four feet tall or even more, the Model 1 was revolutionary — less than a foot high and only six inches wide.

First model sold nearly 100,000 pairs

The Model 1 was carefully designed to deliver stable, top-quality sound no matter where the listener was in the room. “We felt people should be able to enjoy their music whether they were alone or in a group, cutting mushrooms in the kitchen, sitting down or standing up,” says Bruzzese “Before the Model 1, you had to sit in praying mantis mode right between your speakers if you wanted really good sound.” The Model 1 sold close to 100,000 pairs and is still in production today.

VB quoteTotem Acoustic speakers are built to last. Most of the original models are still being manufactured 25 years after their introduction. The company manufactures all its speakers in Canada, unlike most Canadian speaker firms which now do production overseas. “We build what we consider the best in conventional technology with the precision of a Swiss watch,” says Bruzzese. “Our speakers have a worldwide reputation for delivering excellence and great ‘soulful’ sound.”

Science grads have an advantage

Bruzzese attributes his entrepreneurial success in part to his McGill training. “McGill science students learn to meet high standards,” he says. “Countless paths are open to good science graduates, even if they are not obvious right away. To recent graduates I would say this: if you don’t see an opening that interests you, then create one. Be innovative and try different strategies. You may not realize it right away, but you have an advantage. I can tell you from experience — if I wasn’t a science grad I couldn’t have accomplished what I did.”

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