Pitt alum uses ‘love for large-scale special events’ he learned at Pitt Program Council to start event production business in Washington D.C.


Image courtesy of Roger Whyte

Roger Whyte, a 2007 alumnus, is the founder and principle at Stratus Firm.

By Ananya Pathapadu, Staff Writer

As a young college first-year walked past Bigelow Boulevard one fall afternoon in 2004, he saw a group of students building a huge stage on what was normally just a busy street. On a whim, he decided to help out with building that stage and eventually made it his career.

Roger Whyte, a 2007 alumnus, is now the founder and principle at Stratus Firm, an event production company based in Washington D.C. that organizes events across the world. These events range from galas and conferences to summits and broadcasts. 

Whyte and many members of Stratus are part of the LGBTQ+ community. Whyte said he believes the company’s diverse representation is important to the core of what Stratus is and influences the organizations it supports. 

“We are certified with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and as a certified LGBTQ-owned and operated business,” Whyte said. “And that’s also one thing that’s kind of really important to our ethos. We have supported organizations over the years that are part of our community. And we want to continue to support those same organizations.” 

Whyte’s introduction to event production was during his time at Pitt. After helping build that first stage for that year’s Fall Fest, Whyte became more involved with Pitt Program Council (PPC) and eventually took the role of special events director his sophomore and junior year. He credits his time with PPC as the reason why he entered a career in event production. 

“Because of Pitt Program Council, I kind of got my love for large-scale special events. The big outdoor concerts, the concerts we did in the field house,” Whyte said. “That was the first time we ever did a concert up in the field house, in kind of that off-season time.” 

One impact of Whyte’s time on the PPC is the Black and White Ball that takes place around Valentine’s Day. He helped turn that idea into an event when he was in PPC, and it’s an event that still takes place today. 

“I was like why are we doing red and pink and awful things, like couples have things to do, we’re good on couples. Let’s do something for everyone else,” Whyte said. “I kind of concepted the Black and White Ball and I’m glad to hear that it’s still going on.”

After his time at Pitt, Whyte went on to work for a presidential campaign, then at the White House and did a few jobs on Capitol Hill. After his time working on Capitol Hill, he worked with an arts nonprofit, Washington Performing Arts. Through this experience, Whyte felt that he could take the helm of event production, and that is what pushed him to start his own company. 

“I was in this world where I was kind of always reporting up to supervisors. I kind of just knew that there was more out there,” Whyte said. “I was like, you know what, I can start my own company, I can do this. I could do the things I’m doing here, but I could do them independently. I could support other clients.”

Whyte said Stratus’s goal is to plan events that are an experience for guests. Stratus has produced for the broadcast specials put out by the Congressional Black Caucus and has also worked on international summits such as the CEO Summit Of The Americas for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

“We are an industry that creates experiences, that’s kind of our biggest thing. So we want to create, whether it’s a wow moment of something really big or something really small. We’re doing event planning production,” Whyte said. 

Stratus now has 12 full-time employees, one of whom is Kirsten Gooden, the vice president of production. Gooden said the team members are what makes Stratus special to her because they make the experience of working at Stratus more interesting and enjoyable. 

“My favorite thing about working at Stratus is our team and also the creativity that comes with having a diverse team,” Gooden said. “Everyone has a different background and experience and each brings something completely different to the table. It makes collaboration really fun and interesting.”

Stratus has put together events in the U.S. and around the world. One such event was the September 2021 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Leadership Conference, which attracted about 10,000 people to Washington, D.C.  

“This past year, for their Phoenix Awards, we had about 3,000 people in the room for the awards dinner, and we had the president speak, we had the vice president speak, we had a performance by Gladys Knight, we had majority of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus there, so that’s a really exciting one,” Whyte said. 

Shane Patil, an events production associate at Stratus, said helping organize events for the client is a large part of his job. He also believes a great event is one that the client can enjoy along with the invited guests. 

“After all, our clients should be attending their events and not working them, which is also why I love this industry, being able to create such a well-planned and executed event that your client is not only elated with their response but is also able to enjoy their event without having to worry and letting our team take care of those unnecessary and unexpected occurrences,” Patil said. 

Whyte encourages students to get involved and take a chance, because his time at Pitt influenced his current career. 

“I would just encourage [students] to get involved, to try things out. You never know when you, when you maybe will like, ‘Oh hey, I’ll go volunteer one day walking around and helping this thing on the street,’” Whyte said. “My story is that got me to where I am now.”