A legend in the pharmaceutical business, George D. Behrakis has given away tens of millions of dollars of his well-earned money.
We sat down with him to ask about his philanthropy and what it takes for somebody to become so generous. Eventually we got into a discussion of Hellenism in America, the much-needed Greek-American legacy, and that “the Greeks need to give back more,” as the straightforward Behrakis noted.
“Greeks always go for the gold, not the silver or the bronze,” George D. Behrakis had stated when he was honored by The Hellenic Initiative last fall. A Greek-American born in Lowell, MA, Behrakis never compromised for anything else than the gold, and he did it in his own way.
“If I had listened to what people used to tell me, I would have never been successful,” he says during our exclusive interview which is part of the Greek Reporter documentary USA: Made in Hellas, currently in production.
You may know Behrakis as the serial entrepreneur who was able to invent new effective drugs such as Tylenol, and Volmex for asthma, among many others. Initially he worked for Johnson and Johnson, and after creating Tylenol he started his own company Dooner Laboratories with minimal funding he received from his relatives and friends. Dooner grew rapidly and after selling it nine years later, he opened Muro Pharmaceuticals, which first worked on eye products and later moved on to asthma products. With Behrakis, as the head, Muro was highly successful, and he sold the company in 1996.
After retiring from the pharmaceutical business, Behrakis started a quest to give back to society in the US and Greece. Through The Behrakis Foundation, the Greek-American is positively changing people’s lives and plants Greek references whenever he can.
“Greek Americans need a legacy in the United States, I strongly believe that,” says Behrakis who points out that for him the best reward is when young Greeks get a sense of pride through his philanthropy.
But how can somebody become so generous?
Having created billion dollar pharmaceutical giants, he says that for him it is natural to give.
“I think I had the best parents in the world. They had nothing but they would always give dollars to our church when they couldn’t afford a dollar,” says Behrakis about his parents who both descend from Mani, Greece.
“Whatever I receive, I give, I have been lucky. For me its easy to make money through hard work.”
And Behrakis keeps proving his words, since him and his family’s foundation have supported countless Hellenic causes, the Arts, medicine, and the Orthodox Church with tens of millions of dollars.
In 2003 George D. Behrakis and and his wife Margo made a donation to Northeastern, the university where he studied pharmacy, to build the most modern Health and Sciences Center in the United States. The 84,000 square foot complex still stands today as one of the most advanced science centers in the country.
In mid-2009, Behrakis and his wife made a $10 million donation to the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). His donation resulted in the establishing of the George D. and Margo Behrakis Wing where MFA hosts exhibits on ancient civilizations such as Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt.
Behrakis, along with his children Drake and Stephanie, has made a huge impact on Leadership 100, an esteemed Greek-American organization who raises money for the Greek Orthodox church in the US. Besides being one of the biggest donors, he has served as president and chairman, and today is the Chairman emeritus of the organization.
His latest philanthropical endeavour is fighting smoking in Greece, the land of his ancestors where the majority of the population favors smoking besides its deadly consequences. He provided funding and is personally involved along with Harvard University towards a national anti-smoking campaign in Greece alongside the Hellenic Cancer Society and Panagiotis Behrakis, MD, a well-respected pulmonary physician in Greece.
In May 2012, Behrakis received an honorary degree from the Hellenic College in Boston, and in June was given another at Drexel University in Philadelphia. In September 2014, he was presented with the Greek Heritage Award by The American College of Greece, recognizing his contribution to promoting Hellenism.