DETROIT -- Former automotive supplier owner, investor and philanthropist Charles "Chuck" Becker died Jan. 10 from a neurodegenerative disease. He was 72.
Becker's father, Leonard, started the Becker Group in 1954 in suburban Detroit when he opened Perfect Mold. Charles and his brother, Bruce, built the company to world-class stature, competing with larger, better-funded suppliers such as Lear Corp. and Johnson Controls Inc. Becker Group manufactured components for automotive consoles, sun visors, door panels and instrument panels.
After a series of acquisitions, the company renamed itself the Becker Group in 1987. Charles Becker led the 1996 acquisition of Gebr. Happich GmbH, Europe's second-largest maker of interior trim. Becker Group grew to more than 8,000 employees with 32 manufacturing plants on two continents and $1.3 billion in sales by the late 1990s. But the company struggled to compete during an era of major supplier acquisitions as competitors Magna, Lear and JCI continued to get larger and were able to muscle Becker Group out of several major contracts, including Chrysler's next generation minivan that was set to debut in 2001.
The increased competition led Becker to seek a buyer, which it got in 1998 when it sold to JCI in a nearly $1 billion deal in the summer of 1998.
A year later, Becker and his business partners bought back eight molding operations and two tool shops JCI deemed non-core operations and opened as Becker Group LLC near Detroit in Sterling Heights, Mich. Charles and partners sold that company to Collins & Aikman Corp. for $80.5 million in 2001.
Charles Becker went on to found Becker Ventures LLC, a private equity firm with investments in real estate, hospitality, health and industrial manufacturing. Its portfolio includes Chicago restaurant Free Rein, Chicago boutique hotel St. Jane Hotel and Chicago apartment building Mila. The firm is run by Charles' daughters, Carrie Becker-Meghie and Jill Becker-Mast.
He also served on the boards of Collins & Aikman, Metaldyne Corp. and TriMas Corp.
Charles Becker was an active donor to the Karmanos Cancer Institute, where he served as chairman of its board on two separate occasions. He also served as a board member at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Entertainment District Association and the Grosse Pointe Academy.