Pharmacist, veteran, entrepreneur, philanthropist: George D. Behrakis personifies the Northeastern success story

A man in commencement cap and gown delivers a speech
George D. Behrakis drew lessons from his pioneering career after graduating from Northeastern. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

His name is familiar to every student who enters the Behrakis Health Science Center, which for two decades has served as a leading facility in its discipline.

It is named after George D. Behrakis, the Bouvé College of Health Sciences graduate whose groundbreaking career as an entrepreneur and philanthropist was launched by his 1957 Northeastern degree in pharmacy. 

Behrakis personifies the Northeastern success story, said Carmen Sceppa, the Bouvé dean. His is a story of seized opportunities—and a crucial turning point that followed his Northeastern graduation in the era of the Vietnam War.

“I was headed to Vietnam,” Behrakis said. “One of the colonels came up to me and he said, ‘I realize you’re a pharmacist.’”

He offered to transfer Behrakis to a new military hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, where there was an urgent need for pharmacists.

“That changed my entire career,” said Behrakis, “because I met a lot of people from all over the country and all over the world.”

After his military service, Behrakis chose to work in research for McNeil Laboratories in Philadelphia, purchased by Johnson and Johnson—the developer of Tylenol, which Behrakis helped market.

“The marketing people thought it was not a good name,” Behrakis recalled. “But the vice president said, ‘We’re going to stick with that name.’ Well, $42 billion a year later, it’s a pretty good name.”

Behrakis’ transfer from research to marketing created another life-changing opportunity.

“I knew nothing about marketing, sales,” said Behrakis, who had planned to make his career in hospital pharmacy. “And from there I learned skills that I never knew I had.”

After leaving Johnson and Johnson, Behrakis would build up and then sell each of his two companies, Dooner Laboratories and Muro Pharmaceuticals, which had developed a wide range of products for allergies, asthma, eyecare and other areas of need. 

Behrakis returned to his alma mater Wednesday to share his story with close to 200 Bouvé graduates at the Clinical and Practice Doctorate Hooding Ceremony at Matthews Arena. While laying out his career to the graduates, he applied his own marketing lessons: He transformed the complex details into simple, fundamental achievements. They were delivered in the form of a straightforward, understated call to action.

“The opportunity is there,” he said. “What you need to do is to understand the steps so you can go forward, whether you’re in physical therapy or working at a hospital or starting your own business or working in nursing or pharmacy.”

Sceppa defined him in an inspiring and relatable way.

“The son of Greek immigrants who work in the Lowell, Massachusetts mills, Dr. Behrakis has leveraged his Northeastern degree to launch a distinguished career in the pharmaceutical industry,” Sceppa told the audience.  “As founder of Dooner Laboratories and president of Muro Pharmaceuticals, he significantly advanced the treatment of asthma, allergies and other respiratory ailments.”

In all cases, urged Behrakis, it is important to pursue work that you enjoy—and to keep educating yourself as he did, enabling him to stay on top of medical advancements and public needs over the years.

“You never give up,” said Behrakis, pausing a beat to let the message sit in. “Think positive, be positive, act positive. You’re going to go through many adversities in life, many negatives. Be positive. Stay positive.”

Ian Thomsen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @IanatNU.