As chairman and chief executive officer of Clear Channel Entertainment — the almost $2 billion subsidiary of media giant Clear Channel Worldwide — Brian Becker doesn’t waste a minute: actually, he has his days scheduled almost down to the split-second.
And when he talks, he makes every word count. His sentences seem to come in right to- the-point bursts. He speaks in the way that an athlete moves, with a natural economy and no lost energy.
Becker brings that sense of urgency—not to mention his entrepreneurial mind and big-business acumen—to the Alpha-1 Foundation’s board of directors. Diagnosed as an Alpha a few years ago, the 45-year-old Becker aims to get Alpha-1 noticed in a big way. He has established the Becker Family Fund, committing $100,000 per year for the next five years to the Foundation’s research efforts. This five-year commitment breaks new ground for Foundation contributions and intentionally sets a pattern for future donors to follow.
“Our real challenge is elevating awareness to the next level,” says Becker. “The world in general has priorities far beyond our small Alpha-1 population, as they should. Millions of people suffer from all sorts of diseases, poverty, and other needs. We won’t have an impact unless we tell our story and make it compelling. To do that, every Alpha has to get involved. And we do have a good story to tell.”
One for One
Becker’s own story begins with a little cough and very good physician. Never a smoker, he visited his doctor in Houston with a minor respiratory problem and mentioned his family’s history of emphysema, which prompted an Alpha-1 test. It came back positive. “How long does the average diagnosis take—seven years and three doctors?” he says. “Mine caught it the first time. I was one for one.”
Eventually, Becker sought treatment from Dr. Robert A. “Sandy” Sandhaus, who also serves as the Alpha-1 Foundation’s clinical director, at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, where his mother was a patient. “Besides putting me on [augmentation therapy], Sandy stresses the importance of diet,” says Becker. “Obviously, I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. Probably the only thing that I do that I shouldn’t is travel a lot on airplanes.”
He also carves out time for regular exercise. Ask him how he finds the time in his executive’s day, and he’ll tell you flatly, “I don’t have time to die.” He works out three to four times a week, in addition to spending active weekends with his wife and children. In April, for instance, he and his wife, Stacy, completed a charity bicycling event in which they pedaled from Houston to Austin—over 150 miles—on a Saturday and Sunday. “Aside from not being able to sit down after two days on a bike seat, I don’t feel too bad for a guy with Alpha-1,” says Becker about the experience.
“I have a business associate who was in great health and then had an angioplasty,” he says. “From that day forward, he never missed a day of exercise. You don’t want to exercise? Well, the alternative sucks. It’s not much of a revelation.”
Becker brings the same no-nonsense, matter-of-fact approach to his role on the Foundation’s board. “We have to raise money for research, and we can’t raise money without raising awareness,” he explains. “There are tens of millions of us impacted by this gene. And I’m not just talking about carriers. There are even more when you count wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, and family members.” As he sees it, those numbers—combined with potential breakthroughs for other lung- and liver-related diseases that will surely come from Alpha-1 research—make a strong case for getting Alpha-1 noticed.
With more than 20 years of experience in entertainment marketing, Becker knows all about getting noticed. He runs a company that has become the biggest producer and promoter of entertainment events in the world. It owns more than 135 venues around the globe, including most of the big ones in the United States, which feature everything from motor racing to rock concerts to theatrical productions such as The Lion King.
With this kind of business experience, Becker sees local, grass-roots organization as the key to raising Alpha-1’s public profile. “The way to gain visibility is through community involvement,” he says. “Maybe we need to create local Alpha-1 Foundation groups in major markets across the country, each one with its own fundraising and grass-roots programs. If you look back at the top-tier fundraising groups, both medical and non-medical, that’s what they’ve done. That’s the blueprint we have to follow.”
Becker’s ideas certainly find a receptive audience at the Foundation. “Brian brings such energy, experience, and creativity to the board,” says John Walsh, the Foundation’s co-founder, president, and CEO. “As a strategic thinker, he’s a tremendous asset. His ideas for grass-roots efforts hold real promise. We hope to implement them through our collaboration and strategic partnerships with the Alpha-1 Association, the American Lung Association, the U.S. COPD Coalition, and similar groups.”
Of course, making that vision a reality would require recruiting lots of Alphas as entrepreneurs and activists—not to mention raising more money. “I can see going to Congress and asking for a grant,” he says. “We could say, ‘Give us a few million dollars, and we’ll turn it into 25 million. Give us the seed capital to establish this network, and in five years we’ll earn our own way.’”
The very idea seems typical of Brian Becker—always talking straight and always thinking big.
Article first published in Alpha-1 Magazine in Summer 2004