Mike Fernandez – April 22nd, 2015
Last Thursday, Miguel Benito Fernandez held several talks in Mary Chapel, one geared towards Spanish majors, one for COES & Pre-Business program students, and one for the entire campus. He is also known as “a penniless, Cuban immigrant turned self-made business mogul, healthcare industry leader and philanthropist.”
Forced out of Cuba at the young age of twelve, Miguel ( better known as Mike) Fernandez tried hard to make his way in the busiest part of New York City – Manhattan. He enrolled in Xavier High School – a prestigious, private, Catholic college-preparatory school for young men. There, he was defined as a “failure” and a “scholarship” student. He worked incredibly hard, yet was teased as having a low IQ and being a straight C-student. However, what his peers didn’t know was that Mike turned down the full scholarship that he was offered, working part-time as an animal attendant and a gift shop cashier to pay half of the tuition while his father paid the other half.
So how did he do it?
Although Mike only holds a high school diploma and a semester’s worth of college education, he holds more integrity, wisdom, and real-world experience than most of us do today. Through his talk and the Q&A session that followed, Mike offered several tips and insight as to how he was able to get to where he is today.
1. Use Your Disadvantages to Your Advantage
Mike described himself as having Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, but rather than talk about how it hindered his performance, he talked about how he was able to use it to enhance his performance. He explained that it provided him with the incredible ability of multitasking- he was able to not only review, but also understand several financial statements in a very short period of time.
2. Develop a Plan
As a result of Mike’s ADD, he began to develop 7-day plans where he would map out his week from Monday of one week to Monday of the next week. This plan allowed him to be focused on achieving a specific goal within given time constraints, while also giving him the flexibility of changing his goal the next week.
3. Be Simple & Be Aware
Mike describes business to be much simpler than we complicate it to be. Broken down, business can be classified as a bunch of small decisions. These decisions are influenced by our knowledge and perceptions, and Mike emphasizes that it is imperative to be aware and understanding of whom you are working with. He explains that most of his clients and workers now are ones who have worked with him in the past, and that it is important to align business and customer incentives to be successful.
4. Break the Glass Ceiling
When asked about his experience with discrimination, Mike responded that he felt like he had two choices: to either be stepped on or to prove that he was better than those who looked down upon him. He compared the situation to be much like that of a glass ceiling. “Break that glass ceiling. You decide if it can be broken or not.” Mike emphasizes that despite what others say, we as individuals have the right and the potential to change our own future.
5. Don’t Invent. Copy.
Mike advises young entrepreneurs to take the ideas and mistakes of previous entrepreneurs into consideration before trying to make it out on their own.
6. Fail. A Lot.
“Push yourself to the point where you’ll fail and you will learn a lot in life.” Mike always focused on what was going wrong with his companies rather than what was going right. He always wanted to know what was going wrong and how to improve on his failures. Although 23 out of the 25 companies he invested in could be considered successful, he considered most of them to be failures because he did not reach his ultimate goal.
7. Stay Motivated
When asked how he stays curious, Mike responded that he keeps moving. Everything he does serves as a reminder that he is building up his own story and making his father proud.
8. Appreciate & Be Grateful
“In this country, if you can make it, you can make it anywhere.” Mike says that he appreciates the United States and all that it has to offer more than others. He reasons that coming from his background and social status in Cuba, he is really grateful and blessed to be in the U.S. today. Putting his own perspective on a popular idiom, he says, “The grass is always greener where you are.”
9. Be SUPER
“Sacrifice – Urgency – Passion – Execution – Results” Mike promotes the idea of being SUPER– that is, sacrificing your time to address important consumer concerns, prioritizing and completing tasks quickly and efficiently, being passionate about what you do, executing your ideas, seeing the big picture and satisfactory results that come along with it, and then helping others.
10. Pay it Forward
Mike’s publisher David Lawrence was also present at the talk, and he explained that Mike had projected to see about 500 copies of his book Humbled By The Journey, but in reality sold over 20,000 copies. Originally, Mike did not even want to write his own story, but after the sale of his books, Mike donated all of the proceeds to provide for early school preparation for children. He encourages all of us to also pay it forward, connecting with others and then spreading the wealth. “Giving is really a learned experience. You need to learn to give, because the natural instinct is to keep.”
Reflecting on Mike’s talk, I concur that we are extremely lucky to be in the U.S., where we have so much freedom and opportunity that we often take for granted. We are especially fortunate to be attending a school like Holy Cross, where students are constantly paying it forward and being men and women for others. I hope that all of you are as inspired by Mike as I am to break that glass ceiling of yours and to form your own meaningful relationships, companies, and future.
And with that, I leave you with a photo of me with bunny ears from the silly, personable and humble man himself: Mike Fernandez.
Thank you to our student writer Michelle Jin ’17 for her review of guest speaker, Mike Fernandez – and great photo!
As always – check out the new COES instapage @HCPrebusiness – and watch for future student reviews of Pre-Business events.
Associate Director, Entrepreneurial Studies