‘Confidence gained at community college helped spur achievements
KOKOMO, Ind. — Sometimes life takes a lot of turns before you finally get to that long, straight road to success. That was the case for Ivy Tech alumnus James Berry.
James is the president of Berry It and owner of BerryComm, both Kokomo-based businesses. Combined, their offices have 150 employees and a subcontractor base of another 250 or so. But it wasn’t always that way.
After graduating from Logansport High School in 1995, James took off for a year and worked different jobs. Then came a couple of years working with his dad at Jim’s Auto Sales, where his love for sales was brought to light. In time, he found himself back at square one in the game of life.
A former co-worker told James about good jobs in the “drop bury” business, burying cables and fiber optic connections underground between houses and the street. James bounced around, working for several different companies as a subcontractor. In the meantime, he and his wife, Jamie, had decided to go back to Ivy Tech Kokomo – James in Industrial Technology and Jamie in the Licensed Practical Nursing program. Both graduated in 2002.
For James, he said, the return to school came after the realization that he really needed to do something with his life.
“I’ve always used my hands a lot so the Ivy Tech tool-and-die program was fun for me,” he said. “I was very proud of my degree. I got straight As; I was in Phi Theta Kappa (the national academic honor society for community colleges).”
James decided he wanted to take his skilled trade degree to Caterpillar in Lafayette. He got hired but the week he was to start began with a big layoff and the job disappeared.
“That ended up being a good thing. I started buckling down,” he said.
“I thought – I can go out and make my own pay with what I was doing as a subcontractor. I’m a ditchdigger and what’s wrong with that? There is really good money in dirt,” he added with a laugh. “I was groomed to go to college, but I believe you need to understand there are other opportunities out there to make your own future.”
And make his own future he has. In 2004, he incorporated Berry It, a play on his last name and one that aptly describes the company’s main business. With his last name, he joked, “It was either that or make jelly,” Little by little the company grew, weathering economic slowdowns and employment decisions by big companies they worked for, and expanded into waterline installation, aerial construction, fiber splicing, engineering design, vacuum excavation, and geothermal loops. Today, there are Berry It offices in Kokomo, Lafayette, and Indianapolis and a fourth is opening soon in Fort Wayne.
At various times, his four brothers have worked with the company. Wife Jamie left nursing to raise their four children and then joined the company as well, credited with putting together the policy structure and running the Human Resources side of the business. James said the Berry It team, which now includes the executive directors, is the secret to success, “by finding the right people and putting them in the right seats and allowing them to do their jobs.” He added, “Great employees are the heartbeat of the company.”
Since 2015, sister company BerryComm has been in the business of providing internet services along with the fiber optic networks constructed by Berry It. BerryComm now provides fiber optic internet services to the communities of Walton, Royal Center, Lincoln and Galveston, as well as Lewis Cass Schools, and has expanded into Cicero and Howard County. The company was recently awarded a contract to build a 55-mile fiber ring around Howard County that will provide fiber optic internet to residential and business customers as well as Howard County schools.
“Rural internet service was my heart’s passion before it became the big issue it is now,” James said. “We are transforming lives one community at a time.” And that includes getting involved in local charities that have the same goal.
If it sounds like a mission, that’s because it is. “I had been trying to find that kingdom-minded purpose,” James said, describing putting his faith into action. “I have been blessed in life and I want to support anything that is good in helping people.”
He says that even though he didn’t pursue the career path promised by his Ivy Tech degree, he has continued to use the knowledge gained at the community college, whether it’s creating an Excel spreadsheet or outlining a business plan.
“My accomplishments at Ivy Tech were more a question of self-worth,” he said. “It boosted my confidence. It wasn’t the industry I ended up working in life, but it helped me learn it’s important to like what you do, and I love what I do.” And today his businesses employ a number of fellow Ivy Tech graduates.
James and Jamie’s family has grown to include Adrean, husband Cash and their 2-year-old son and new baby; 20-year-old Kyen, a student at Indiana University Kokomo; 17-year-old Koen, a senior at Northwestern High School where he plays basketball and baseball; and 15-year-old Kolten, a sophomore at Northwestern High School where he plays baseball. In his spare time, James says, he’s always ready for a round of golf.