Mike Fernández was born on July 24, 1952, to Mario Antonio and Leiba Fernández in Manzanillo, a small town in the eastern end of the island of Cuba. His father began his venture into the business world at a young age and by the age of 24, ambitious Mario Antonio owned four sandwich shops, a cafeteria, a bar and a jukebox business. On Christmas day in 1964, a 12-year-old Fernández, his parents and younger sister Pilar were forced out of the country after the Cuban communist militia seized Mario Antonio’s shops. The family first reached Mexico City and then made their way to New York City.
As a young teenager in New York, Fernández helped fund his education at Xavier High School, an all-boys Catholic School, by taking odd jobs. He briefly attended the University of New Mexico, where he studied architecture, but the self-proclaimed “terrible student” dropped out and enlisted in the army. In 1975, 23-year-old Fernández left the military and moved to Miami, attending Miami Dade College for a short period. With a desire to work, Fernández dropped out and became a door to door insurance salesman. He found his niche by converting large monthly goals into smaller weekly ones. Fernández worked more hours than his colleagues because of his thought process, but his formula worked, and he became a top seller in Florida. Since then, Fernández has owned eleven companies. They weren’t all successful, and the young entrepreneur found himself having to start over multiple times, but that never defeated his spirit.
Inside his Coral Gables office, Fernández has a caricature of a small mouse wearing a helmet, pining after a piece of cheese placed on a mousetrap, which reads: Never Give Up. This is his motto in life, he says, and the picture also illustrates Fernández‘s light-hearted demeanor. He values honesty and is always the first to bring up his shortcomings. According to Fernández, a focus on business leaders to the demise of his first two marriages and health problems: he’s suffered two heart attacks and is currently in remission from prostate cancer.
There’s much more good in Fernández than bad, though. He’s a well-respected philanthropist who has donated in excess of $100 million dollars to charitable foundations in the last 20 years. In 2012, he joined forces with sports superstar and close friend Earvin Magic Johnson to bring HMO plans to urban communities, including a much-needed program for HIV/AIDs. In 2013, Fernández’s granddaughter Daniella underwent successful heart surgery at Miami Children’s Hospital. Upon meeting the mother of another hospitalized child, Fernández felt compelled to help other parents without resources to pay for medical treatment. He took pledges for each mile of El Camino de Santiago (St. James Way)–a 508-mile spiritual journey through the Pyrenees starting in St. Jean de Port, France, and ending in Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, Spain–where the remains of the Apostle St. James rest. Every year more than 200,ooo pilgrims travel the route known as El Camino or The Way. Fernández put on his hiking shoes and raised more than $5 million dollars for families with limited resources and children in need of medical treatment. “It would’ve been terrible if my father’s son were not relevant. Out of respect for my dad and everything he did for us, I wanted to be relevant, I don’t mean financially relevant, either. It’s all about doing something good,” says Fernández of his desire to make a positive impact on his community.
At the urging of his wife Constance (the pair has been happily married for the last 15 years), Fernández released a book: Humbled by the Journey: Life Lessons for My Family… And Yours that chronicles his life with beautiful pictures of his family, friends and from his voyage through El Camino. With this book, Fernández hopes to inspire others to “Take Care of Those Who Come After Us,” a notion that has stayed with him throughout his life. Proceeds from book sales will go the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation, a nonprofit focused on early childhood education in Miami-Dade County.
So what’s the biggest accomplishment for such a successful businessman? “My kids understand how important it is to give back. They get it. Kids do what they see, not what they’re told,” he says. Mike Fernández has five children: Christopher, Michael, Alex, Michelle, and George, and along with the rest of his family that’s what is most important to him: “Family is where it all begins and all ends,” the philanthropist concludes. ■