Ruth Ann BeckerBy: Darlene Dela Cruz
Life stories and principles from the successful Honolulu businesswoman
Ruth Ann Becker opens the door to her condo, a bright end-of-the-hall unit in a low-key Honolulu high-rise. Her spunk is disarming; her smile is effusive. And as she speaks of getting water, tea and any other bit of hospitality she can possibly offer, the grace and toughness of a well-bred Texas/ Oklahoma belle come forth in her confident, articulate drawl.
“You sure you don’t want anything?” she insists. “I know I’m going to need some water.”
Becker sits on a plush living room couch, surrounded by neatly kept piles of books (in which Dean Koontz, Katherine Hepburn and pastor Rick Warren coexist) and framed photos of her parents in their 1940s-era youth. As president and founder of Becker Communications, a local public relations firm, she brims over with enthusiasm for a totally promising 2010.
“So we’re in our 24th year approaching our 25th anniversary,” she says. “I’m very excited about that. This is a great year for me because it’s the Year of the Tiger, which is the year I was born. I’m very hyped.”
Becker gets just as “hyped” to talk about her path to this milestone. Born in Fort Hood, Texas, she was the only child of a German immigrant mother and an Army soldier father, who died when Becker was about 4 years old. She spent her formative years in Tulsa, Okla., where her mother eventually remarried and ran a close-knit Baptist household.
“She was a full-time mom and a housewife, and she was fabulous,” Becker says. “My father was an attorney, very much a self-made man – the kind of guy who worked three jobs to make his way through college and law school. He’s my ‘daddy,’ and we’re very close.”
Eventually, Becker attended the University of Oklahoma – “‘Boomer Sooner,’” she cheers – and graduated from the school’s journalism program. She specialized in public relations and worked in Oklahoma’s PR industry for six years.
“I think the first thing that drew me to the field when I was young was that a lot of writing was involved; I love expressing myself through writing,” she says. “When I started taking (PR) courses, I started getting interested in the whole strategy and purpose of public relations. There’s so much that public relations can do that’s so far beyond what people think of when they think about PR. Really great public relations and marketing is a process, so you have to understand how to develop a vision for what you’re doing for a client, and how to help them develop their own vision of what they want to be to their public.”
Seeking to test her skills beyond Oklahoma, Becker followed her self-described “sense of adventure” to jobs in Guam, Asia and Europe. She moved to Hawaii in 1981 and served as the managing editor of Hawaii Business magazine.
“It was a fabulous way to get to know the state – who are the movers and shakers, what the industry’s all about,” she says.
Becker opened her own PR business in January 1986. About two years into the start of Becker Communications, one of the firm’s largest clients experienced some financial setbacks and pulled out from the PR company. It was a major blow for Becker – with a fledgling client roster and a two-person staff, she wondered if her business would make it through. But what initially was a setback became a life lesson.
“Your parents said it, and your girlfriends say it when you lose a boyfriend: ‘When one door closes, another door opens.’ ‘Create a vacuum and it will be filled,’” she says. “But that was, in experience, an operation of that particular universal truth. Because, of course, the void was filled. Other clients came along, and we were able to have the time and energy and space to give to them. Life moves on.”
It certainly has for Becker, who’s PR firm now serves the likes of clients such as Kraft Foods, and is embracing the new opportunities in marketing through online and social media. Further opportunities may come for Becker Communications to evolve with the times, but what won’t change are Becker’s core business and personal principles.
“No. 1 – and I’ve said this in my staff meetings – is that who you are is the most important decision you will ever make. You don’t want to ever compromise your core values,” she says. “I’m a big believer in truth-based advocacy. Certainly in public relations and in your personal life, I would say relationships are valuable currency. And it’s important to always maintain an attitude of grace and gratefulness.”
She brings that grace to her community service work, and to her personal hobbies as well. Becker loves to travel, read and play golf. Her condo also is the site of many theme parties – Oscar Awards events and Super Bowl games get ultra-festive with this home entertaining junkie.
“I love to cook for people,” she says. “I will challenge anyone with my Portuguese bean soup and my Texas chili.”
Hospitality, serving others, self-awareness and a little bit of competitive moxie. Whether she’s talking about chili or public relations, all of that seems to make Becker the strong businesswoman she is today.