From ’60s Activist Ranks to Executive Suite
Adapted and expanded here is a story from the second-season premiere of “Study With The Best,” a regularly scheduled 30-minute TV news magazine. The show (CUNY-TV Channel 75, Sundays at 8) highlights CUNY’s wide array of degree programs, outstanding faculty, remarkable students and alumni, and major University research initiatives. The lively, fast-paced series is aimed particularly at prospective CUNY students in local high schools.

If you think that vigorous student activism is incompatible with becoming a pillar of the community and a top corporate executive, consider the career of CUNY alumnus Philip A. Berry.
Philip Berry, in his office at Colgate-Palmolive.
While earning his Associate’s degree in marketing at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (Class of ‘71) and his B.A. in sociology at Queens College (Class of ‘73), he was a student leader and activist. And even after earning a Master’s in Social Work at Columbia in 1975, Berry remained involved in social and community issues.

Sitting at the desk of his executive suite at Colgate-Palmolive, the $12 billion global consumer products company based in New York City, Berry recalls those tumultuous days.

“I was at BMCC during the Vietnam War, and like a lot of students at that time, I was really concerned about our being over there. I was involved in demonstrations and the protests to raise our concerns. It was a time of high social consciousness, but it didn’t really take hold of me until I went on to Queens College, where I became president of the Black Student Union there.”

Berry remembers one event vividly, explaining, “There were 48 students in something called the Open Door Program, which had been established to increase ethnic diversity on the Queens campus. When we discovered that its funds were being cut, we went to negotiate with the President of the College at that time, Joseph Murphy.” The outcome of these efforts was favorable, Berry recalls. “The thing that I did was to open up a constructive dialogue with Murphy, and we were able to get those Open Door students reinstated and preserve their funding.” (Murphy went on to become a much- admired CUNY Chancellor.)

Mount Vernon, NY honors Philip Berry in the 1970's by proclaiming a "Philip Berry Day."
Since those heady days, Berry has ascended the Colgate-Palmolive ladder over the last 25 years to become Vice President for Global Employee Relations & Best Place to Work. “I’m responsible for a number of employee relation

matters: helping individuals who have different problems in the organization, working with managers and employees as they have issues regarding the workplace,” Berry says. “But the Best Place to Work designation has to do with helping to develop programs and activities that make us an employer of choice—and hence best able to retain, attract and develop talent in the organization.”

Berry sees a clear connection between his past and present. “My feeling about social activism is that I saw injustices and I saw people in need. I wanted to involve myself, to take a leadership role to help them, and that’s certainly something I’m doing here at Colgate-Palmolive.”

“People talk about change, but they’re not willing to undertake change themselves,” Berry observes. “They’re sometimes not willing to do something completely ‘out of the box’ to get from point A to point B.”
Berry’s corporate success at thinking “out of the box” doubtless accounts for the fact that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently appointed him to serve on a mayoral panel on educational policy and also asked him to serve on the Board of the City University Construction Fund. Chancellor Matthew Goldstein has also asked Berry to serve on the CUNY Business Leadership Council.

Contents October 2002

$7.5M State Grant Launches Incubator Network

Students Reaping Benefits of Technology Fee

Georgian Elegance, 21st-Century Technology Joined in Reborn Brooklyn College Library

Launching LaGuardia Students Toward Animal Planet

From ’60s Activist Ranks to Executive Suite

Digging the City’s Past

Poet Laureate Collins Takes his Cue on Evil

A WWII Mobilization in The Tale of The Ticker

Subversive Feminist Julia De Burgos Celebrated at Hostos

Italian "Enemy Alien" Experience in WWWII

Museum at Queens College Spans Six Centuries of Art

Celebrating Scholarly “Pleasures of the Mind”

Valued Vets Toasted at the Central Office

CUNY Responds to Powell’s Call for More Minority Diplomats

LaGuardia and Lehman Honored for Freshman Year Programs

Former Brooklyn College Philosopher Turns Philanthropist