Cormac Woods spent the last week at the beach, looking out at the rolling waves and thinking of ways to make your Christmas shopping experience more fulfilling.
Woods is president and owner of The Becker Group, a Baltimore-based company that designs custom displays — mostly holiday-themed — for businesses across the country. The native of Ireland first sought work at Becker out of college after winning a lottery to come to the United States, hoping only for a job that gave him ample opportunity for time off to see the country.
But Woods unexpectedly found himself thinking of Christmas all year long. Founder Gordon Becker got his inspiration after dressing up as Santa to help support a family member's business. That gave him the idea of managing a stable of Santas and offering their services and decorations to area stores and, eventually, malls. The company, which dates back to 1953, soon moved toward creating elaborate Christmas displays meant to attract and keep customers at malls that began popping up around the country.
Woods became enamored with the work and opted to stay. He went from warehouse manager to director of information technology to overseeing sales and direct marketing as the Becker Group's reach expanded. It developed displays familiar to locals, like the lights in Little Italy and the Christmas feel at Hunt Valley Town Center, White Marsh Mall and Harford Mall, but also has been responsible for a 70-foot tree in Dubai.
When the company was sold in 2008 to Viad Corp. — a Phoenix-based experiential marketing company, Woods felt that distant leadership led to a shift away from its original mission. He bought it last year, and already is overseeing the creation of design concepts for the upcoming holiday season.
You were born in Ireland and educated in Sydney, Australia. You decided to come to the United States for what you thought would be a short stay. What were your career goals at that time?
Ultimately, to return home to Ireland and become part of the burgeoning Celtic Tiger [the name for Ireland's economic boom], specializing in the information technology field. I was fascinated by both the fast paced-development of technology and the Irish economic revolution.
Upon arriving in Baltimore, you took a position in The Becker Group's warehouse, thinking it would be a stress-free job you could do for a couple of years. How did you get hooked on the business?
I wanted to enjoy America for the summer and spend some time with friends at the beach. However, I had no idea how busy Christmas would be in August and couldn't get away. So I thought, "We'll give it another year," and still I got caught up in the Christmas rush. One more year, a promotion and I met the girl. Falling for an American woman changed everything.
After purchasing The Becker Group last year, what steps did you take to try to rekindle the spirit that existed when you began as an employee?
It meant so much to put the meaning of "group" back into Becker Group. I knew giving and deserving trust were the first steps toward re-igniting the team. When I started working for Becker, it felt like going to work with family. It made it a little easier to be so far from home. Everyone pulled together with hopes of not just satisfying our clients but wowing them. That, and a driving desire to make it to Thanksgiving in one piece.
It's June. How does the president of a company specializing in Christmas displays spend his time?
Sourcing new products and new designs for next year while simultaneously working with our production team building this year's projects and still trying to steal a couple of days at the beach in Ocean City. (I have finally learned not to wait until it is too late.)
Most importantly, who would win in a Christmas decorating contest: you, or Clark Griswold?
Clark Griswold would, because I have to answer to other people's budgets. But I would certainly give him a run for his money. And it would be spectacular!
President, The Becker Group
Residence: Lutherville, MD
Family: Wife, Martina; Children Séamus, Taylor, Louise, Alexandra and Steve.
Education: Like most Baltimoreans, I tend to think of my high school when asked where I went to school. I am a proud alum of Synge Street CBS in Dublin.
Hobbies: Soccer, though allegiance to Liverpool FC has been matched by interest in the Orioles and Ravens