You’re a Jewish boy growing up in New York in the mid-1950s. You have one all-consuming passion that affects all aspects of your life – even your business career as an adult. That passion is baseball, right? Not if you’re Charles Becker, now senior VP and executive director of marketing and licensing for New York-based manufacturer Millennium Apparel Group.
Becker’s longtime love happens to be the great Canadian pastime – hockey. His parents taught him to skate when he was four, and he started playing at age six. ‘I remember my dad taking me to the end balcony on the second level of the old Madison Square Gardens to see [New York Rangers] games for US$2,’ recalls Becker. ‘In those days, I used to hang my little transistor radio outside the window of our apartment to listen to Foster Hewitt calling games for the [Toronto Maple] Leafs.’
By the time he was 12, he was playing Junior B hockey for the West New York Raiders, and every summer after he turned 16, Becker would make the trip to Agincourt, Canada to attend the Tam O’Shanter hockey school. ‘I ate, slept, drank and inhaled hockey,’ says Becker. ‘Every dollar I earned went to it – going to games, playing hockey and buying equipment.’ The annual trip to Canada cost US$1,000, and he was ‘one of only two Yankees in the whole place,’ but Becker recalls the experience as a great one, notably because he became friends with several Maple Leaf players (including ’60s great Frank Mahovolich) and had Johnny Bower as one of his instructors.
So how did this hockey-loving boy become the businessman he is today? ‘Everything in my life happens by chance,’ Becker claims. After college in the early ’70s, Becker was recommended to an executive training program run by retailer EJ Korvettes and ended up as a buyer at the tender age of 25. Mattel soon hired him away to work in its retail merchandising division in New York, where his office was 10 feet from his ‘home away from home,’ Madison Square Gardens. In 1981, Becker was promoted to national director and moved to Mattel’s West Coast offices. Of course, hockey played a role there, too. ‘We ended up buying our house from [L.A. Kings forward] Danny Bonar,’ laughs Becker. ‘We took out the hockey sticks and took slapshots in his garage while our wives negotiated the sale of the house with the broker.’
A die-hard Rangers fan, Becker says hockey still affects how he handles his career. ‘I’ve always tried to be a team player, and through hockey, I have been trained to think as a ‘we’ person, not an ‘I’ person. Hockey, as in life and business, is not an individual game.’