MODESTO, Calif. - William Berry, president of United Rentals, died Sept. 16 at his home here after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 48.
Berry, best-known for his tenure as president and CEO of Modesto-based U.S. Rentals, was a 30-year veteran in the rental industry. He played a major role in the 1998 merger of United and U.S. Rentals and served as president of United until he went on medical leave in February 1999.
Born in Berkeley, Calif., and raised in Modesto, Berry began working at Berry Equipment Rentals, owned by his father, Gene, at age 13 and managed his own branch in Lodi, Calif., at the age of 21. At 24, he returned to the company's Modesto headquarters to serve as general manager of its five locations. U.S. Rentals bought the firm in 1976 and retained Berry in a management position. In 1982, at age 30, Berry was promoted to region manager for Northern California. He became vice president two years later and was named president and CEO in 1986.
Berry spearheaded a number of innovative programs at U.S. Rentals including profit sharing among all employees at the branch level. Under his leadership, the company grew from 39 locations and $45 million in annual revenue in 1986 to 131 locations and about $600 million in revenue at the time of the merger with United.
Berry was highly respected in the rental industry by co-workers and competitors. "Bill had the unique ability to make everyone feel as though they were his best friend," said John McKinney, former chief financial officer at U.S. Rentals and now vice president of finance for United Rentals. "He had a level of integrity that is so rare to find these days."
"Our industry has lost an outstanding business leader as well as an individual with tremendous honesty and integrity," said Brad Jacobs, chairman and CEO of United Rentals. "Bill always kept his eye on the human side of the business, and contributions to the success of United Rentals were immeasurable."
Berry is survived by his wife, Susan, and their children, Scott, Ann and David.