Les Mandelbaum was born in Toronto, Canada in 1951. He attended Antioch College in Ohio, majoring in music and sociology. Eventually Mandelbaum moved to Boston to pursue a career in music, a hobby he continues to enjoy today.
In 1976 Mandelbaum returned to Toronto and started Trans-Canada Hardware (TCH), a company that supplies parts for the construction of heavy duty custom “road” cases and speaker cabinet protection used by rock musicians on road tours. Although Mandelbaum considered this a part-time enterprise due to his ebbing music career, the business was an immediate success. Today TCH has revenues of $25 million and has operations in Texas, New York and Toronto.
In 1979 Mandelbaum and his childhood friend Paul Rowan turned a decorating dilemma into an innovative product. This predicament began the journey to Umbra’s success as a leading brand for contemporary home accessories:
Unable to find an acceptable alternative to the mundane selection of window shades then available, Rowan created his own design and approached Mandelbaum with the idea. The two discovered that there was enough positive response from the design community at their very first display at the Chicago Housewares Show back in 1979, and from Canadian retailers, to create a new company. ‘Umbra’, derived from the Latin word for shade or shadow, was born. Consumers quickly became fans and Umbra started expanding into more home categories.
Many Umbra products have since become design icons and remain best-sellers in the marketplace. The curvaceous GARBINO Can sits in the Permanent Collection of Museum of Modern Art and many others have received international design recognition. Umbra’s commitment to design integrity has made it one of the most prolific producers in the marketplace -it launches over 600 new items per year.
Umbra exports more than 85 per cent of its products out of Canada and has facilities in the United States, Europe, Hong Kong and mainland China. Umbra manufactures products in nearly every category of home accessories and furnishings, for every room in the home. The thirty-one year old company currently has revenues of over $100 million and employs over 750 people worldwide.
Les Mandelbaum resides in Toronto with his wife Wendy and two children, Lucas and Jake.