Drake Behrakis is a young emerging leader of the Greek-American Community

By Despoina Fronimopoulou

Drake Behrakis is the President of Marwick Associates, a real estate investment and development company located in Lexington, Massachusetts. Marwick is the real estate arm of a family-owned, privately held investment company. He is also active in the Behrakis Foundation, the family’s philanthropic vehicle, and a co-founder of the strategic advisory firm 2TmX Advisors. Before establishing Marwick, Mr. Behrakis held various positions with Muro Pharmaceutical, Inc. and the Gillette Company. He has a bachelor’s degree in finance from Boston College and an MBA from Northeastern University.

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Drake Behrakis is the President of Marwick Associates

In 2015 he was the recipient of the Boston College Distinguished Volunteer Award. Prior board commitments and involvements include Boston College, Leadership 100, Brigham & Woman’s Hospital, Order of St. Andrew, Orthodox Youth Ministry, Hellenic College, and State of Massachusetts Economic Assistance Coordinating Council.

Archbishop of America resides with his wife, three children, and dog, Lola, in Wellesley, Massachusetts, USA. 

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The Behrakis Family: Drake and Maria with children Dimitri, George and Zoe
  • First and foremost, what is the most beautiful thing that comes to your mind regarding Greece? What is the one you mainly want everyone to know about Greece?

Wherever and whenever me and family travel to Greece, it’s always the experience of seeing the country from the airplane, landing, and realizing you are back home, to some extent. Since being a Greek-American myself, Greece feels like a relief since it is the home of my grandparents and as well as my wife’s parents. It’s a special feeling when you can become emotional or sometimes happy. Returning to Greece every year, and sometimes more than once, is always an amazing and wonderful experience. 

  • What is one thing you’re most proud of regarding Greece? Is it the history, the language or the culture in general?

I think it’s a little bit of all. Sometimes you pay attention to the “common” things that you talk or read about at school, which are primarily regarding the ancient contributions, and yet there are a lot more cultural elements that we unintentionally focus on. On the one hand, we try to live our lives even though we’re here in America, maintaining as much as possible our culture and our legacy that was that was brought over here by our grandparents. Whether it’s language or experiencing holidays or religious and traditional occasions, our civilization is so rich to focus on the ancient time. Greece is not only about Parthenon, but also about the contributions to the world’s modern civilization.

I take a lot of pride in how it has not only changed the world in general but also continues to change our reality, becoming a reference even in the modern days. Greece has evolved into a very dynamic and exciting place on a few different levels, even though it is in a very difficult geopolitical position globally. There will always be tension to some extent and still, our homeland never stopped evolving regardless of its small territory compared to others. Especially here in America, this timeless movement toward evolution makes us proud. 

On top of that, technology and communication have brought us much closer, making the Greeks of Diaspora admire the steps Greece is taking forward and considering a permanent comeback. In today’s world, you meet somebody instantaneously through the Internet, forming lifelong bonds and friendships that weren’t there half a century ago. As a result, we’ve seen more and more Greeks in the Diaspora go back to Greece either to visit and look at starting businesses or helping through charitable activities. In reverse, in recent years, many Greeks students have come over here for additional degrees. The communities are much closer than they ever were and that’s an important aspect of maintaining our important values, beliefs, and culture.

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Drake Behrakis is the President of Marwick Associates
  • What was the spark that ignited the beginning of the philanthropic activities you have been involved in for the past 25 years?

It was the example my parents showed me. For the first years, I saw how hard my father worked in his businesses and how my mother was dedicated to staying home and raising her four children, including me. Thus, I’ve learned through an example to give back to my family and my hometown since my father wanted to be a successful businessman, but he was down to earth, meaning that whatever he did, it was for his children.

That is why he wasn’t looking for awards or to compete against other people, although he was obviously a very strong, intelligent businessperson with a lot of common sense.  He was born and grew up in America, he saw his poor parents’ deeds, living in bad housing conditions, and working hard. That dedication I noticed, as well as my wife did with her parents, inspired us to have children and grow a family with the Greek values they did because of their insight about their families.

That leads them to do things for their children so that they can have a better life and advance them further. My father was fortunate enough, contrary to my mother, to be the first to go to college and thus the education gave him opportunities to become successful financially. 

That way, my parents began giving back financially to organizations and areas they felt that they could make a difference and have an impact, revolved around the Greek community (e.g., the orthodox church, museums, or Greek art). One thing that people overlook about philanthropy is that everyone’s focused on the money and the impact it can make.

More specifically, when somebody donates millions of dollars, there’s a significant impact since it’s worthy of your organization to promote and publicize the “big gift” in the newspaper. However, philanthropy is more than just giving a huge amount of money.

Even if you can give one or two or five dollars and that makes you, as a person, feel great that you’re able to contribute to something that you feel it has a significant impact. The message to me was that it is not only about the money; the smaller gifts that everyone collected to be gathered and given to the ones in need are critical. You do not need to wait and have a lot of money to give, but you can make the change you feel doing by different means or on a smaller scale.

I was very fortunate to have these opportunities, exploring what I liked and what resonated with me. The ancient Greek habit of contributing whenever and wherever there was a need, became a very important humanistic value and we sometimes overlook or interpret it differently.

Everyone knows the word «φιλανθρωπία», but beyond that, there are more Greek values and beliefs that help societies and organizations to grow and expand. Giving unconditionally should feel like it is the right thing to do; it is really the need to feel and experience helping a person or a group. It’s a feeling inside you. 

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The Behrakis Family: Drake and Maria
  • Greece has been facing multiple crises within the last five years. How do the Greeks abroad feel about it? Do they organize charitable activities to contribute in extremely difficult circumstances? Does the Greek youth in the diaspora have that inner need to volunteer? 

Not only the Greek Americans but the younger generation in general, has grown the volunteering community larger than it ever was, and there are two factors that lead to this growth. The first and most critical one is that sympathy is experienced more efficiently within the family nowadays. Especially, the Greek-Americans, based initially here as immigrants, even if they are Americanized, have kept the Greek values alive and transmitted them to their younger members.

On top of that, the school system in America promotes volunteering through different clubs and activities. As a result, most young students get involved in philanthropy in their early years. Each school, both in the public and the private sector, grows the need of giving back; a need that is useful while entering society as an adult. Even in high school or college, there are programs, some of them mandatory, which promote volunteerism. This way, charitable activities are promoted as something that you should consider joining. 

Two is that the society itself creates new generations that feel frustrated with the current social injustice and all the terrible events happening around them. Especially, in the U.S.A, massive school shootings have become a growing problem that needs to be stopped.

So, even in their school years, students nowadays face such great challenges that urge them to take action by volunteering. There are a lot of issues that make this place not the place that someone would like to live. For me, setting up and joining organizations that are fighting to bring change is a significant step toward a better world, and of course, not because of the money spent for a good reason but for the well-spent time the younger generations choose.

There are a lot of highly skilled and very passionate young people in this world that want to see change. They get together and so “every vote matters”, meaning that each and every act of philanthropy is valuable. The younger generations are getting much more involved in volunteering at an earlier age. 

As for the disasters in Greece, we, the Greek-Americans, tend to feel more just sympathy. Our love and gratefulness for our ancestors and history create a whole different level of showing sympathy. We feel it, and it hurts. We do try our best to help Greeks out of such tragedies through our charitable work.

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The Behrakis Family
  • What is the biggest lesson your father taught you and which are the highlights of his philanthropic work and business career that we should all keep in mind?

I have learned a lot of lessons from my parents; I was fortunate. The one that probably resonates with me the most is that regardless of where you end up, never forget where you started. Everything your personal experience, your family, and your career taught you. Being good and trying to do the right thing is way more difficult than following the wrong “path.” If there is something you are not comfortable doing, do not even consider it, do not even try. Stick to what you feel is the right thing to do. And thus, you will succeed more often. 

I take a lot of pride in my “name.” Not only because of my parents but also of my grandparents since I had the luck to meet them and learn about their life story, how they came from Greece, etc. I do have a lot of pride because of that legacy. 

For me, the biggest thing is that everything my father did, even outside of the community and business, at the end of the day, still returned to his love and faith in his culture. The world was much better when my parents came to U.S.A, the community was much closer, and all the Greeks grew up in the same area in Massachusetts.

That generation created a close-knit, sharing every day and occasional events. So, everything my parents did was under the aspect of promoting and perpetuating the Greek culture and heritage as a part of their own lives and history.

My father has always supported the church, Greek cultural organizations within Greek communities and outside, and even Greek education.

He supported sharing all the important things that we were taught by our ancestors and the history they brought here while trying to keep it in the forefront, not only what he did but becoming the inspiration for other Greek families to follow his journey in philanthropism, as some of them already do.

He is dedicated to this as a part of his life’s passions, and the fact that he is still active in charitable work stands as a message. 

However, this path is not easy at all. My father has been extremely active from his very first steps in promoting the Greek civilization successfully. He would always be the first person to solve the problem he would notice and change the situation he is not satisfied with. We, the third generation of Greek immigrants in U.S.A, are Americanized, which is inevitable.

Of course, gaining knowledge and cultural characteristics from other civilizations creates a highly educated and equal population.

Nevertheless, there is always going to be a challenge in keeping the history and tradition of each ethnic group alive, and this is why there will not be an end to this. This is why a lot of organizations still work on that issue, which needs to be supported by the Greeks of the Diaspora. My father’s work inspires us, showing the light of promoting Greek values in a complex, multiethnic globalized community. 

The other thing that I wanted to mention about my parents since they work together in all of those charitable acts, is that in the previous years, they were not that much capable of keeping the family bonds tight since the communication and traveling were not that advanced. It was a little bit later in their lives when they could afford to go to Greece and meet cousins and relatives that they have never met but only heard of before. That was when they began visiting their hometown more often, and their feeling of getting involved in philanthropy burst.

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George and Margo Behrakis – Photo: JOHN GILLOOLY/PEI
  • Give us a summary of your career which started in finance and now is based in the real estate field. Are you planning to expand your career activities in Greece?

Absolutely. Most of my career has been about accounting and finance. I studied at Boston College. After finishing my studies, I worked for Gillette for four and a half years. To me, that was a great experience because I experienced the corporate world and how it functions.

Also, since the headquarters were in Boston, I learned about the businesses because there are many factories in Boston. From there, I moved to work in my father’s pharmaceutical business for ten years. At this point, I would like to mention that my father made a good choice by urging me and my siblings to firstly gain valuable experience and join the family business later if we wished so.

My father said that the family business will always be there for us, and if we want to be involved, we are more than welcome. “Start your own career, take it where you want, and if you feel like getting the opportunity to work in the family business, do that”, those are his words.

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George Behrakis

The opportunity to push myself even more in the corporate world by working for a larger company was the best option then. I joined the finance department and learned a lot more about my father, an entrepreneur and businessman himself. My skills were updated, and I worked directly for him.

My involvement in the Real Estate world started when my father was close to retirement. He was becoming a real estate investor in his hometown along with his friend as a contractor. He urged me to “have a look at it” as a side project to technically review the buildings as I was already experienced in finance.

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George Behrakis

When my father started selling his businesses, he used to bring up the idea of taking over his real estate business without pushing me into it. It was still my decision whether I wanted to move on with that option or keep the career I already had. I continued working in his pharmaceutical business for a year since my marriage was approaching, and I really wanted to be more focused on that.

On top of that, at that moment, I was also interested in relocating, an idea that made this decision even more challenging. However, my wife and I decided to stay in the U.S.A, and the first year I spent a lot of time working with my father to get to know the business in-depth and, of course, reach out to the network around the real estate world.

I wanted to get a good understanding of the real estate world, so I started working with some of my father’s properties and growing beyond he had, finally owning properties in Boston and even in New York. 

Looking back, I feel grateful and extremely happy for following this path in the real estate field because I am an impulsive perfectionist with a lot of passion for my work. All these characteristics are valuable in the real estate business. I am highlighting this part of our interview since a vast majority believe that investing is a really quick and consistently profitable procedure.

However, in the real estate world, you must be aware of a lot of different factors which work together, as well as pay attention to the detail in order to succeed. You must think, reflect and second-guess yourself sometimes. This is why my experience so far has made me a better decision-maker in general, teaching me to step back and investigate a lot before coming to a final decision. 

As far as Greece is concerned, our company has already made some small investments. My wife and I are now working on finding the next phase of our life since our children have grown up. Greece is certainly a part of that phase for personal and business needs.

Personal because my wife’s close relatives live in Greece, specifically her parents, cousins, and uncles who live in Thessaloniki. We desire to stay as much as we can in Greece, which also leads us to choose Greece as our next “stop” in life. We want to explore Greece as much as we can as even if Greece is a small country, its beauty is so vibrant, and the destinations to visit are countless.

Additionally, I have done good business networking in Greece so far through real estate and the organizations I am involved in. Truthfully, I am really interested in investing there, not only in properties but also in companies. This is the way I do feel like giving back to my roots. 

I am also interested in teaching in Greece, not necessarily as a professor, but mainly by lecturing to students and giving them a good taste of the business and finance reality. Except for the real estate field, I have a good understanding of all types of small and large businesses, having found the valuable principles and values for a future businessman to have.

So far, I have participated as a speaker in different conferences or programs here in the U.S.A for Greek and American students. The part that I highlighted in my latest speech to university students was time since my experience is the only difference between all the ambitious students who want to be involved in the business field and me.

However, I feel like it’s much more essential to continue this educational path in Greece, where it is more needed. 

  • Lastly, which are the organizations that you are a member of and which of them are associated with the promotion of the Greek culture?

Currently, I serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The National Hellenic Society, as a Member on the Board of Directors for The Hellenic Initiative, the American College of Greece, and The Maliotis Cultural Center. Additionally, I am an investor/shareholder in Comkardia, Christie Campus Health, and an Advisor to Genomes to People, Desmos Policy Institute and the Delphi Economic Forum.

Most of my philanthropic activities are associated with Greece since I love giving back to my hometown. One thing I have learned through time about myself is that I love helping. But we all have a time constraint, our full-time work, family and activities, and hobbies. For me, in this list, philanthropy has always been added.

So, all my life has been a hard try to balance all my activities and prioritize them. The most valuable thing my life taught me is to self-reflect often, meaning having productive time with myself to adapt to all life’s changes, such as having a family, climbing up the career ladder, and good and bad events. So, I faced a new challenge every day, and there could not be a prediction about the next one.

When I get a position in a charitable organization, I will contribute to the fullest. Not missing a meeting and giving my time and energy whenever it is needed. There were many times that I overcommitted myself, and the need to self-reflect began to grow gradually.

Through time, a lot of things have changed, and even if my free time grows, my energy is not the same. You must refocus and step back when participating in such philanthropic deeds is too much. This is why the pandemic for me was a blessing, allowing me to recharge physically and mentally and reconsider life choices. Everything shut down, and my calendar was empty, so I noticed I had been squeezing all my free time for the last few years. I realized that joining philanthropic activities is a lifetime commitment, but you can always contribute on the scale you can. 

Following this, participating in charitable committees is a semi-business situation, giving you corporate responsibilities in a flexible timetable. The bad thing is that in most of these committees, you tend to see the same talented people, and thus, there is no room left for younger members to step up and take over key positions. Younger people of all areas and diversities want to be empowered and involved.

For me, there is a way. My belief is that all excellent working organizations must be passed on to the following generations, showing them trust and respect. There must be a transition, which we should work on. Even if I feel blessed to be invited and work in such organizations, I firmly believe that the next generations have the energy to do that successfully.

Of course, I will stay loyal to the things I am more passionate about and play a significant role in helping the way I can. But I want to give somebody else the opportunity to feel my shoes. Otherwise, all the excellent work done so far will be lost by not seeing the potential and the benefits of letting peers join us.

I will leave you with this. Three years ago, I was involved in eleven organizations, I was in the executive committee of four, and I was just a board member for the rest. It was a wholesome and plentiful as experience. But I realized that it was too much.

Stepping back when it is the right time to leave is the most valuable choice for you and the organization you respect and love. It’s the time for me to get the time alone I deserve but of course stay at advisory positions to help the new generation fit in and grow.

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Drake Behrakis and Archbishop of America, Elpidofopos

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