As a mathematics student at the University of Houston, Roger Berry always knew he wanted to go into information technology. What he did not know is that he would eventually run all IT for the Happiest Place on Earth.
Today, Berry’s office looks out across Disney World, EPCOT Center, and the other themed locations in Orlando, Florida, the international headquarters for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Since January 2005 Berry has served as chief information officer for the international resort giant.
Berry grew up a far cry from his current leadership position. His father, a refinery worker, never attended college. “So he was determined that I would,” Berry said.
“I went to UH to get into IT,” Berry recalled. “That was absolutely my career path.” At the time, many employers such as NASA were hiring any and all applicants with computer science experience. Working his way through college, Berry majored in mathematics and minored in computer science hoping to capitalize on the boom.
But the discipline ultimately presented Berry with problems. “I had a particularly hard time learning proof theorems,” he explained. But like most UH alumni, Berry found the helping hand of a dedicated faculty member. Mathematics Professor Margaret Haft not only helped Berry and others master the concepts, but she gave them a strong tie back to the campus. “If you can understand the concept,” Berry said, recalling what Haft had taught him, “the actual execution of applying the concept becomes much easier.”
This was a concept that Berry has carried with him throughout his career. Following graduation from UH in 1972, he worked as a database administrator at Armco Steel in Houston. From 1982 to 1995 he worked at Tenneco, where he eventually rose to the position of CIO. He served in that same position for Campbell Soup for five years.
Berry’s tenure with Disney began in 2000 when he took the position of senior vice president and CIO for Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. “This business is all about storytelling,” he said. “It is the underpinning of everything they do. You have to tell a story.”
His own story eventually led him to the position of interim CIO for all of The Walt Disney Company, including television, movies, and retail, as well as parks. After two years in that role, he took his current position with the resort business. “It’s all about making the guest happy,” Berry explained. “We give them an experience they can’t get anywhere else.”
In particular, Berry admires the Disney companies’ commitment to ideas. “They will stay with a good idea until they get it right,” he said. One example is the PhotoPass system, an innovation developed by Berry’s IT organization. The system has streamlined the guest photography process at Disney parks, eliminating long lines at photo booths and allowing guests to access all of their photos from Disney parks online.
Berry’s responsibilities include overseeing 3,000 IT professionals employed by Disney worldwide, including those in Florida, California, Paris, Hong Kong, and a joint venture in Tokyo.
When asked what advice he would give to current students in computer science and mathematics, Berry said: “You have to be excited about what you do and stick with it.”