Becker Lives Life to the Fullest
By SUE REID
A few minutes with Solon resident Hal Becker, and the following attributes come to mind.
- He's honest. Brutally, yet wonderfully, so.
- He's funny. Make that over-the-top funny.
- He's a salesman. In fact, he might just be the salesman to end all salesmen.
He's real. So much so that when he shares details of his life, including his bat- tle with cancer at the age of 28, one can't help get caught up in the passionate, joy- ous and irrefutably touching story he tells. But first, the author, international speaker and two-time chairman of the Solon Chamber of Commerce will give you his 3.5 rules of life. "You have to love what you do for your job," he said. Second, if you are married, be a great spouse. "Third, if you are going to be a parent, be a great parent." Lastly - that would be the 0.5 part - if you want great friends, be a great friend.
At 57, Mr. Becker incorporates these rules into his daily life - and then some. That is especially the case since being given three months to live when first being diagnosed with cancer in 1982. "I remember feeling sick, like I had been kicked in the stomach," Mr. Becker recalled of his initial symptoms. It was Christmas Eve when the pain was evident, although it wasn't until February that Mr. Becker finally went to the doctor, he said. The news was the following: "You have stage-three terminal cancer." Mr. Becker explained that he had testicular cancer that had already spread to his abdomen, chest and brain. Treatment options were experimental at the time, he noted. His cancer was similar to the type bicyclist Lance Armstrong battled.
"I was lucky enough to go on a study at University Hospitals," he said. Mr. Becker spent the following eight months in the hospital, receiving three different types of chemotherapy. "It was really intense," he said. "I was never that violently ill in my entire life. I remember thinking, I can't do this for the next eight months." An only child, his parents and friends stayed by his side through it all, he said. It was the first time he had seen his father break down and cry. Mr. Becker said the type of chemotherapy he received was so toxic, "it was like Drano. Your whole body is getting burned out from the inside out."
But, in the end, "it saved my life - for now," he said. Although he is "cancer free," Mr. Becker said, the long-term side effects of the chemotherapy that he was told would most likely occur - are. "I have so many things that will proba- bly happen," he said. An example is that he has pulmonary fibrosis, which is scar tissue on his lungs. A common cold worsens quickly and can turn into pneumonia as a result. "My lungs are not so hot," he said. He also has a high risk of developing other types of cancer, he said. "I don't know how long my life will be." As a result, Mr. Becker lives his life to the absolute fullest. In fact, he recalled that, after leaving the hospital after eight months to resume is daily life, he vowed to have fun - no matter what. He also vowed to resurrect the small startup business that had to be put on hold, Direct Opinions. He did just that with one of the first customer-service telemarketing firms, which now conducts more than 2 million calls per year nationwide. Rewind before the diagnosis, and the John Carroll University graduate was the No. 1 salesperson in a national sales force of 11,000 for Xerox Corp. He went on to sell Direct Opinions in 1990 to devote more time to other pas- sions, which include presenting lectures and seminars worldwide to a variety of organizations, such as IBM, American Greetings, Bank One and Keycorp. "I was trained to be a trainer," he said matter-of-factly. Another passion was writing.
Mr. Becker is the first to admit that his initial go at it almost didn't make it off the shelf. "I was rejected by 34 publishers," he said with a laugh. The organized entrepre- neur even kept every letter. "These were some of the nastiest let- ters I've ever read," he said. "All I wanted to do was sell books and donate the pro- ceeds to cancer." A small publishing house finally took notice, and Mr. Beckerâ€™s first book, "Can I Have Five Minutes of Your Time?" became a national bestseller. That's when he started making mistakes in life, he said. He wrote more books that didn't receive as much acclaim and started trying to do too many things at once, he said. What he was good at - rather, great at - was sales and sales training, so he com- mitted to writing and speaking about that. "Lip Service," a collection of humorous stories of the worst customer service in America and interviews with the 10 best companies in the world that came out in 1998, was received positively.
Others, not so much. Mr. Becker continued conducting seminars worldwide while writing. "My job is either to go into companies and train all of their salespeo- ple or reorganization of sales," he said. For his first paid seminar, he recalled receiving $50. Not surprising considering his strong work ethic, Mr. Becker has never missed a seminar in 26 years. "I've hitchhiked, driv- en all night and rode corporate jets" to get to a seminar on time. He has since slowed down his number of speaking engage- ments, and, despite all of his successes, he said he doesn't take himself too seri- ously. "I take what I do seriously, but not myself," he said. He continues to give of his time and talents throughout the Greater Cleveland and Solon communities, setting the goal of sitting on four nonprofit boards a year. They have included the Better Business Bureau, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the March of Dimes, to name a few. He prides himself on his common sense, and the happily married father of one knows how to laugh - mainly at himself. He said he and his wife, Holly's, arguments almost always end in laughter.
As a young girl, his daughter taught him the valuable lesson of never holding a grudge, he said. Mr. Becker's hobbies include being the proud owner of a powered parachute, which allows him to do aerial photogra- phy. Music is his other great love, and he plays drums as a member of the band Flashback. A bucket list still remains. That includes skiing out West - just once, he said - and taking his wife to Australia and New Zealand. Though he met one of his biggest goals in life - to meet his best friend that would become his wife - Mr. Becker said he regrets not having more children. "I've never held an infant, and I've never cooked," he said. Those who know him may not realize one other thing. He's shy and not good at small talk, he said. "I'm uncomfortable talking to people I don't know," Mr. Becker said. He doesn't like to talk "nonsense," and, unless he has had a "substantial conversation" with you, he won't remember your name. The lucky ones call him friend. "I'm having the time of my life having fun," Mr. Becker said. "I just have common sense, and I love life."