Ready to Take Off
Sometimes it seems like the roads to hell and the airport must be paved with good intentions (and often like those destinations aren’t so different).
We’ve all been there: It’s the day of your trip. You had set your alarm to wake up five hours before departure only to realize the power went out in the middle of the night. Or you leave the house in plenty of time to get to the terminal, only to be marooned in a seemingly interminable traffic snarl. Or you put all of your documents and tickets together in plain sight on the dining room table, only to bolt out the door and leave them behind.
In the end, you reach the airport breathless, frazzled, and facing a line that resembles something out of your darkest nightmares—or at least Black Friday. It’s hardly an experience you would associate with the ideal vacation or with getting an important business trip off on the right foot. To help alleviate at least some of this stress is where the company CLEAR and its CEO, Caryn Seidman Becker (A.B. ’94), come in.
In the Blink of an Eye
Security clearance at airports is a two-part process. The first is establishing your identity; the second is a physical screening to ensure that you aren’t carrying anything prohibited. CLEAR deals with the first part of that process.
At participating airports, CLEAR pods enable customers to confirm their identity through biometric scanning of either their fingertip or iris. Customers sign up in advance and have their identification digitally authenticated. Then they can use the pods for an annual fee and head straight past the snaking lines to the metal detectors and bag scanners.
“Travel is such an important part of our economy and our world that we want to make it a great customer experience and make it more secure,” says Seidman Becker. “That’s what CLEAR does, and it feels really good to be bringing that to consumers around the country and hopefully one day around the world.”
CLEAR is an anti-terrorism technology certified by the Department of Homeland Security. It can work in tandem with—not instead of—TSA PreCheck, which deals with the second aspect of airport security. Whether enrolled in PreCheck or not, CLEAR users report that they can typically get through screening in about five minutes. That kind of success has led the technology to be adopted by major airports across the United States.
“We launched in Detroit in October, and we expect to launch cities like Minneapolis, New York, L.A., and Atlanta very soon,” says Seidman Becker. “At the end of the year, we’ll have 20 airports covering the majority of airline traffic in the U.S.”
Customers can begin the enrollment process online at clearme.com and then finish at a participating airport—and they can use the service immediately. Thus far, the technology has been used over 5,000,000 times by more than 600,000 people.
As a political science major, Seidman Becker didn’t envision life as a CEO. A former writer for the Michigan Daily, she initially wanted to pursue a career in sports journalism. The summer before her senior year, she worked three jobs: as a sports intern at a Toledo television station, as a waitress at a steakhouse, and as an intern for an investment banker. To her surprise, the last of these appealed to her the most. Equally surprising was realizing how well she was prepared to excel at it.
“What I took from political science were the skills to do research and analyze and think critically about things,” she says. “And what I loved about Michigan is that it gave me grit and intellectual curiosity and an appreciation of the need to advocate for myself.”
That served her well when Seidman Becker turned down a consulting job in Chicago and followed her heart to New York City with an eye on a job at an old-school Wall Street investment firm. (“Someone was foolish enough to hire me,” she jokes.) From there, she rose from a junior analyst to become a shrewd investor with ties to the aerospace industry and experience with distressed companies. When she found out that CLEAR had entered bankruptcy in 2009, she saw it as a unique opportunity to leverage different areas of her expertise and make a difference.
“I had been a long-time investor in biometrics and a big believer in its capabilities,” she says. “I wanted to buy a company and build something material and important that could make the world a better place.”
Seidman Becker sees other possibilities for the platform outside of the security gate. The company has already piloted the use of biometric boarding passes at San Jose International Airport, and CLEAR pods are in place at several major sporting venues, where fans can take advantage of shorter lines and even touch-to-pay concessions.
And as dedicated as she is to improving the experience of customers, Seidman Becker has also taken steps to share what she believes is one of her most important experiences of all: attending Michigan. She recently established a scholarship fund at LSA for students connected to the Young Women’s Leadership Network, whose board she sits on.
“I believe in the power of education,” she says. “For girls in lower socioeconomic areas, it is all about going to college. It is all about changing their lives and those of their families and their future.”
But the challenges of her career and relaunching CLEAR have taught her that students and aspiring entrepreneurs have to be ready for a bumpy ride.
“Every yes has started with a no,” she says. “Your job is to be passionate and persistent enough to take constructive feedback for what you need to do better next time and change that no into a yes.”