Caryn Seidman Becker and Ken Cornick | CLEAR
Caryn Seidman Becker, Chairman and CEO
Ken Cornick, Co-founder and President
New York, NY
A clear turnaround
CLEAR’s Caryn Seidman Becker and Ken Cornick have brought clarity, speed and success to the secure identity industry.
Take a bankrupt company in a field with zero vendor or consumer confidence at a time replete with fear and trepidation. Only someone flush with the spirit of entrepreneurship would see the confluence of these forces as an ideal opportunity for success. In the case of CLEAR, a secure identity company that uses biometrics — fingerprints, irises, faces — to create frictionless identity verification at airports, stadiums and other venues, two such visionaries saw the potential and made their move.
Caryn Seidman Becker, CLEAR Chairman and CEO, and Ken Cornick, Co-founder and President, already had built a record of achievement at Arience Capital, the hedge fund they founded nearly two decades ago. The partners chose the name to evoke both the “art” and the “science” needed to wisely select distressed companies for investment when Wall Street couldn’t see their value. They also recognized the end of the road before others did. They shuttered the firm and liquidated their investments in 2009, just before the market bottomed.
“People were starved for liquidity in 2008,” says Seidman Becker. “Early December, we returned the cash to our investors. We’d done right by them over a seven-year period, and we went out hunting for companies.”
It’s like a test every day. How badly do you want it? How much are you willing to fight for it?
A meaningful move
With significant capital in hand, they sought a company where they could build something that would be more meaningful to them than making well-educated stock picks. Due diligence led them to CLEAR, which had declared bankruptcy in November 2009. In February 2010, they bid on the company at auction and acquired it.
“It was biometrics, homeland security, and it was clearly a turnaround because it was shut down,” Seidman Becker explains.
With insights gained from the art and science they had so successfully used to strategize at Arience, they viewed CLEAR as a company that had failed because of a disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street. They were confident they could fix it.
And fix it they did, rebuilding and rebranding CLEAR into a trusted security company that has grown to more than 1,500 employees and over 3 million subscribers and whose venues include baseball parks and airports — more than 40 sites in all, and growing — as well as more than 50 Delta Sky Clubs.
So what did their art and science tell them?
“Our view was that, post-9/11, security was going to become an increasing need, and it was a trend that was investable,” Cornick says. Meanwhile, the smartphone had emerged as a widely accepted convenience, helping to increase consumers’ comfort level with highly personalized technology.
The duo reached a catalytic milestone in 2015 when they accessed the cloud environment, enabling faster and easier sign-ups at airports and stadiums. Further, in 2016 Delta bought a 5% stake in the company, forming a partnership facilitating a better overall experience in airports.
Today, air travelers with CLEAR subscriptions use designated lanes to get to their gates without undue delays. Once at their destination, they can take advantage of CLEAR’s partnership with Hertz to get on the road more quickly. And at Major League Baseball stadiums partnering with CLEAR, fans are able to get to their seats faster. The technology may even facilitate concessions where age verification is critical. In fact, CLEAR also is working with Anheuser-Busch to incorporate age verification into vending machines for beer purchases.
The hallmark of integrity
Cornick and Seidman Becker brought shared personal values to the company’s culture. Each is married with three children, and when they share their wishes for the company, a sense of family is evident. Integrity is a hallmark of CLEAR, both in terms of protecting the security of the biometric information the company collects and in its relationships with employees and vendors.
“Having a caring culture is really important, and it’s good for business,” Cornick says. “It engenders loyalty. It engenders trust and ultimately leads to our care of our members.”
That care has extended to personal generosity to employees in need.
“You can’t just hire a bunch of people and not take care of those employees,” Cornick says. “Jobs are fungible. People can go anywhere, especially in a hot job market, and sometimes you can probably make more money in other companies, so it is really important that people want to work here.”
Seidman Becker adds, “Those employees in a call center and at the airport and their families are depending on us.”
The partners share similar attitudes about the value of hard work and the meaning of success.
“What is most rewarding about what we’ve done is building a company and creating jobs and impacting people’s lives on a daily basis,” Cornick says.
“Ken and I have lived our lives as underdogs — and happily so,” Seidman Becker says. “It’s like a test every day. How badly do you want it? How much are you willing to fight for it?”