The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

The Greyhound

The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

Philanthropist Mike Fernandez shares his keys to success: “I didn’t want to be poor, I wanted to be relevant.”


A human being with a story to be told, Miguel “Mike” Benito Fernandez has truly fulfilled the essence of the American dream. A multibillionaire and generous philanthropist, he spoke at Loyola on Monday, Oct. 26 to a filled McGuire Hall discussing his book “Humbled by the Journey.” In his lecture, he spoke about his struggles to grow as an individual, moving from Cuba to America with no money, and many other important moments throughout his life, which created a wise and valuable leader.

Fernandez and his family lived in the part of Cuba most notable for leading uprisings and revolutions. When he was nine and his sister was four, he was forced to watch a death by firing squad as tactic to instill fear in the people by the government. The victim of the shooting was the local dentist, whom Fernandez said had done nothing wrong but was chosen at random. At the age of 12, he and his sister were forced by a group of soldiers to leave their house. He travelled to multiple places, including a convent, to live until finally escaping to the United States with only 50 pesos or 13 American dollars. Before leaving, Fernandez received sage advice from a man he would meet near the airfield. This man told him, “Son, take care of those that come after you.”

He went to high school in New York City, but fell behind because of his attention deficit disorder — something he is much more comfortable joking about now. He was discouraged from pursuing certain jobs, and was even encouraged to drop out of high school by his guidance counselor. Fernandez shared with the audience that he was told to be “reasonable in his expectations” of his future, as if to say that an immigrant or Hispanic is not capable of doing great things. But he disregarded this advice and pushed harder. One day during school, he came home and told his father that he had received a scholarship from his high school. His father was furious because he believed the scholarship was geared towards the belief that Hispanics could not afford to go to a good high school without financial aid. His father’s dismay taught his son a pivotal lesson in life — the benefit of hard work. In order to pay for his high school education and earn it, Fernandez worked from six to nine every night washing animal cages, and selling trinkets outside of the National History Museum. Where he is today is the result of developing habits of working hard and appreciating the little things that make life great.

Fernandez spoke a great deal about his high school experiences, which helped form his character and his career. There were two decisive moments in high school that are most notable to him. The first comes in meeting a Jesuit priest, while he was struggling to stay in school. The Jesuit called him into his office once a week and instead of teaching him chemistry or other useful subjects to aid his fledgling academic record, he imposed Jesuit values on him. This was a major turning point in the character and stigma behind every decision of Fernandez. His relationship with this Jesuit eventually fell silent until the day he received a package in the mail from the priest, bearing a crucifix and a note telling of his terminal cancer. From his family to the man at the fence of the airport to this Jesuit, he relies heavily on the support from these relationships.

The second high school experience is his “fake it until you make it” motto.  He found out that there was a teacher that was willing to give a ticket each Wednesday to go to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He went every week from freshman year until he graduated not because he was fond of the music, but to study the people. He understood that the wealthiest and most upscale people attended these events, and he wanted to see “how people from the other side of the railroad dressed and acted.” He observed their attire and mannerisms in order to copy them. He said he would also stand outside of the Hilton in downtown New York City and do the same thing. He considered himself very superficial in faking it by copying other people, but this was a learning block in order to knock down early barriers he would face in confronting wealthier people for business.

After one semester in college at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, he was made aware that he would be drafted into the army. He decided to enlist himself to have the ability to select the field he would prefer working in. He chose the field where he would combat jump from 1,250 feet — he was and still is afraid of heights. He landed 47 jumps during his time in the army. His experiences in the army brought about a critical point in his life — he came to the realization that he is terminal, meaning eventually he will die. “That is my reality,” he said during the lecture. Since that moment, he has suffered two heart attacks and has had cancer, proving that life is fragile.

Fernandez is a now a multibillionaire who has bought and sold 25 companies in the health care industry. He remains in healthcare for he believes that if you are particularly strong in a field you should pursue it passionately and become very good at it. He is passionate about his entrepreneurial spirit and noted that he knocked on 600 doors before getting his first sale. “I wanted to quit every day,” he said. But he pursued, even as his mind told him not to.

His entrepreneurial spirit has led him to his great success, along with his rigorous work habits and motivation. The idea of quitting and not providing his family with a financially sound future motivated him to keep going.

Further, he followed the advice from the man at the fence of the airport to “take care of those that come after you.” Fernandez has led a philanthropic, genuine life. All of the proceeds from his book go towards the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation, whose mission is “making available and affordable high quality health and education [for children].” He shared during the lecture that he is fair to his employees and sets a value-driven example in all things he is a part of.

Fernandez has gathered a net worth in the billions through faking it, but then making it. He came to America with no parachute to aid his life, only an incentive to create a better life.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Greyhound Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Activate Search
Philanthropist Mike Fernandez shares his keys to success: “I didn’t want to be poor, I wanted to be relevant.”