A legend in the pharmaceutical business, Greek-American philanthropist and entrepreneur George D. Behrakis has given away tens of millions of dollars of his hard-earned money.
Greek Reporter sat down with him to ask about his philanthropy and what it takes for somebody to give so very generously. Eventually, the discussion shifted to the topic of Hellenism in America, the Greek-American legacy, and the concept 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,” Behrakis stated with pride when he was honored by The Hellenic Initiative in 2014. A Greek-American, born in the former industrial city of Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1934, Behrakis never compromised on anything other 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 explains during our exclusive interview, which is part of the Greek Reporter documentary “USA: Made in Hellas.”
Greek-American philanthropist George Behrakis
You may know Behrakis as the brilliant entrepreneur who was able to invent groundbreaking new drugs such as Tylenol, Volmex for asthma, and many others.
Initially, he worked for Johnson and Johnson, but after creating Tylenol he started his own company, Dooner Laboratories, with just the startup funding he received from his relatives and friends.
Dooner grew rapidly, however, and after selling it nine years later, Behrakis opened Muro Pharmaceuticals, which first worked on eye products and later moved on to asthma products. With Behrakis as its head, Muro was highly successful, and he sold the company in 1996.
After retiring from the pharmaceutical business, Behrakis and his wife Margo, who have nine grandchildren, started their quest to give back to society in the US and Greece. And, true to his hard-working attitude, they are doing it in a very big and bold way.
Through The Behrakis Foundation, they are positively changing people’s lives.
“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 feel a sense of pride through his philanthropy.
Having created billion-dollar pharmaceutical giants, he says that for him, giving comes naturally.
“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, it’s easy to make money through hard work.”
And Behrakis keeps proving his words, since his family’s foundation has supported countless Hellenic causes, including in the arts, medicine, and the Orthodox Church, with grants of tens of millions of dollars.
In 2003, George D. Behrakis and and his wife Margo made a donation to Northeastern University, where he studied pharmacy, in order that they could build the most modern Health and Sciences educational center in the United States. The 84,000-square-foot complex 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) in Boston, the fourth-largest museum in the United States. His donation resulted in the creation of the George D. and Margo Behrakis Wing, where the MFA hosts exhibits on ancient civilizations, including 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 which raises money for the Greek Orthodox church in the US. Besides being one of the largest donors, he has also served it as president and chairman, and today is the Chairman emeritus of the organization.
His latest philanthropic endeavor is fighting smoking in Greece, the land of his ancestors –where much of the population still favors smoking in spite of its deadly consequences.
He provided funding and is personally involved, along with Harvard University, in creating a national anti-smoking campaign in Greece alongside the Hellenic Cancer Society and Dr. Panagiotis Behrakis, a well-respected pulmonary physician in Greece.
In May 2012, Behrakis received an honorary degree from Hellenic College in Boston, and in June was awarded another, from Drexel University in Philadelphia. In September of 2014, he was presented with the Greek Heritage Award by The American College of Greece, recognizing his contributions to the promotion of Hellenism.