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BMCC Trailblazer Returns to Campus

BMCC President Antonio Pérez and Alumnus Philip Berry ('71)
BMCC President Antonio Pérez and Alumnus Philip Berry ('71)
December 1, 2010

Many BMCC alumni give back to the college where they “Started here,” by speaking to current students, encouraging friends to apply to BMCC, or by contributing funds to support various scholarships and programs.

Philip Berry (’71) is a special alumnus and friend to the BMCC community. He majored in marketing at BMCC and fondly remembers when the college was “just a few buildings uptown.” Berry was this year’s honoree at the BMCC Distinguished Alumni Luncheon, held in the Hudson Room, as part of CUNY Month.

BMCC staffers, scholarship students, alumni, Student Government members and the president of the Future Alumni Club were in the audience, eager to listen to Berry talk about ways to succeed in today’s world, both personally and professionally.Berry, a Brooklyn native, has come a long way from his BMCC days.

Currently, he is the Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees for The City University of New York and is Acting Chairman of the CUNY Construction Fund.

He was also appointed to the Business Leadership Council of CUNY (The City University of New York), and is on the Panel for Education Policy appointed by the Mayor Bloomberg.

Berry is BMCC

BMCC President Antonio Pérez introduced Berry at the luncheon, calling him “a friend of the institution who takes an interest in our students.”

 “When I see him at trustee meetings, I see a friend, a colleague and someone who trailblazed a path for other graduates of BMCC. He is BMCC, and is indeed a distinguished alumnus,” said Pérez.

To Berry, Pérez said, “Thank you for keeping the dreams of our students alive.”Berry returned the praise by saying Pérez’s spirit and leadership are “characteristics we [the CUNY Board of Trustees] look for in a president.”Pérez then gave Berry a special gift that symbolized a part of the history of the college—a bolt that once held steel beams together in old Fiterman Hall, the BMCC building that was destroyed on 9/11 and is now being rebuilt.

Berry is the first alumni to receive this bolt, emblazoned with a special thank you message for Berry’s dedication to the college.

The gift was especially meaningful to Berry because he is active with the CUNY Construction Fund that oversees the rebuilding of Fiterman Hall.

“It’s wonderful to see the new Fiterman Hall being reconstructed. I often drive past it,” he said. “It was heartbreaking to know what the students went through on that day [9/11], and now it’s heartwarming to see it being built once again.”

BMCC is a ‘launching pad’

Before Berry addressed the audience, John Marshall, the current President of the Student Government Association, told Berry he was “eager to learn” from him.When he’s not attending meetings and working tireless on behalf of the CUNY community,

Berry oversees his own business here in Manhattan called Philip Berry Associates, LLC, a management consulting firm.

Even though he’s worn many career hats throughout the years—Berry was previously Vice President, Global Workplace Initiatives for Colgate-Palmolive and received an MBA from Xavier University—he holds a special place in his heart for the community college he calls his “launching pad.”

“When I was at BMCC almost 40 years ago, I never imagined 40 years later I’d be standing here—it’s very humbling. BMCC gave me a head-start, a foundation and helped me grow,” he said. “I’m especially honored by those who are leading BMCC in important ways.”

After graduating from BMCC, Berry received a BA degree from Queens College, a Master’s in Science from Columbia University School of Social Work and then his MBA.

Berry’s four thoughts

At the luncheon, Berry wanted to leave the audience with his four thoughts about life, success and acceptance.

Thought number one, he says, is clarify your purpose. “Your purpose is not your profession—it’s the contribution you make on this earth that will assist other people,” he explained. “You’re going to be the motivators who create new technology. I joined facebook to keep up with the trends and social networking.”

After “clarifying your purpose” Berry’s second thought is something he likes to call, “tool up.”

“Gain the knowledge and skills that enable you to improve,” he said. “The confidence level I have right now, that enables me to speak in front of all of you, I got from a speech class at BMCC. Learn how to communicate and get your message across.”

Slice of life number three, according to Berry, is to “Broaden your world.” “Move, grow and try to relate to different people.”

Berry gave an anecdote to further explain what he meant by “broadening.” At one point, he moved to Cincinnati for a job at Colgate-Palmolive. He didn’t know much about Cincinnati when he moved there, and admits he wasn’t even sure where Cincinnati was located on a map. “I thought I’d just stay there for a few months—it ended up being a few years. I moved out of my comfort zone and gave Cincinnati a shot, and I’m glad I did.”

Berry also worked in France before returning to the United States, as another means of “growing.”

“Be as confident in a host country as you would be in a home country,” he said, about accepting others and embracing their differences.He also encouraged students to move into an area where “you may not be comfortable but strong enough to be weak, because being weak allows you to grow.”

For example, he said even attending Queens College was a bit of a culture shock for him years ago, because the students were of various ethnicities and religions.

“I ended up gaining many heartwarming relationships at Queens College because I asked questions; I met others outside my comfort zone,” he explains. “When it comes to growth, recognize who you are and who others are. Sometimes, we don’t go beyond that—to what extent do we reach out to celebrate others? We have our own history months, but why not celebrate the history months of others? Celebrate others, instead of shoving your thoughts down their throats.”

And, his fourth and final nugget of advice for students was to network and connect with people. “Great alums are an asset to BMCC. Stay connected with CUNY. You never know where someone in this room will end up years from now, who can help you.”

Embracing other languages

Berry also encouraged students to embrace and learn other languages—a huge asset in the job market of today. He went around the room and asked how many people spoke more than one language—most did. “What is your brand? You need to define what you do that makes you different; what will make you stand out on a job? It could be speaking another language.”

On the job front, he also encouraged students to be proud of their community college education. “Community colleges are extremely important. President Obama realizes that and it’s realized all over the world because community colleges offer practical majors.”

Taking care of business

Berry, who helps individuals move from their present level to a higher level of capability and also has a book coming out soon about expanding one’s horizons, was impressed with the diversity of BMCC’s current student body, and their intelligence.

“I look looking around the cafeteria to see the students at their kiosks, eating, studying…they’re just taking care of business, and that’s what BMCC is…just taking care of business.”

Ersida Shahollari, President of the Future Alumni Club, enjoyed Berry’s talk. “I speak Albanian, Spanish, Italian and English and I agree with Philip Berry that knowing so many languages is important,” she said. “I liked what he also said about networking—there could be people in this room that someday have their own business and can help me out…you never know. In fact, I’m still in touch with the former President of the Future Alumni Club, who graduated.”

Shahollari appreciated Berry’s honesty when he told students that career changes don’t happen overnight, but with hard work, they eventually do happen.

And on that note, proudly wearing the alumni pin Patricia Splendore, Director of Annual Fund and Alumni Affairs at BMCC, gave him, Berry’s final nugget of advice at the luncheon was: “It’s okay to reinvent yourself. In the business world, if you don’t reinvent yourself, you’ll perish.”

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  • Philip Berry is Vice Chairman of CUNY's Board of Trustees
  • Graduated from BMCC and often returns to the college to talk with students
  • Was honored at luncheon and given a special Fiterman Hall memento.

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