Career Advice: Hustle Hard and Be a Problem Solver

Mike Fernandez
By Zoe Krey

Mike Fernandez is always on the go — he has three different places he calls home to prove it. I interviewed him as he was preparing to jet off to Europe and Canada the next week for business meetings. His nomadic nature began when he was a child and lived in eight different communities across five different states. He kept on moving after that.

Mike is the oldest of more than 30 grandchildren. His close relationship with his grandfather lives on through sage wisdom passed down to him to keep learning and remember where he came from. These two guiding principles have been a constant from career to career.

Mike has worked at Senator “Fritz” Hollings Office as the youngest press secretary to a U.S. senator, Eastman Kodak Company, US West, Cigna, ConAgra Foods, State Farm, Cargill, Burson-Marsteller, PENSAR Strategies (his own consulting firm) and U.S. CEO of LLYC, a global communications consulting firm. He is currently a professor at Boston University and recently was named SVP and CCO of energy infrastructure company Enbridge..

A man that prefers the physical version of the New York Times, Mike is a voracious reader and naturally curious. His ability to seamlessly transition across agencies, in-house roles, industries and positions creates valuable insights for working professionals no matter their line of work. His major career themes are as follows:

  • Skills for Success: At 23 years old, Mike had an understanding of politics and business which allowed him to give advice to a U.S. Senator with authority and confidence. Mike’s early career experiences gave him skills and knowledge that allowed him to toggle from one industry to the next. No matter what the subject was, he understood the broader themes at play, identifying key stakeholders and reacting as needed.
  • Hustle Hard: Mike started his career working as a press secretary by day and taking graduate classes at Georgetown at night. From the beginning, he challenged himself to keep learning and today, he is not only the U.S. CEO of LLYC, but also teaches classes at Boston University. He’s an inquisitor by design and this interest has led him to impressive career advancements.
  • Learn Terrifically and Have Fun: Mike has always loved the process of learning a new industry and immersing himself in a company’s culture. He equates this to solving a puzzle, which is actually something he loved to do as a child. He’s made sure to have a lot of fun in his career.

As a U.S.-born Latino, Mike understands the need for more diverse workplaces. While there has been a linear progression of this over time, the rate of change hasn’t kept up with what’s occurring in the underlying population. Mike thinks that there will be things that propel diversity forward, such as the sheer number of diverse students graduating from universities, however, he noted that leaders have to ensure there are diverse slates of candidates and beyond that, make those with diverse backgrounds feel welcome.

Mike shared that pay equity is also something we need to desperately address in terms of diversity and inclusion. Starting in entry level positions, women and minorities are often paid lower rates. This discrepancy is carried on throughout their careers and managers must consider this going forward.

Mike credits his travel opportunities and industry transitions with putting him in a place to foster discovery. “There’s great joy in knowing that because I’ve been able to do so well, there’s much I still have to give back,” he said. He mentors students at Boston University, sharing his wealth of professional knowledge and encouraging others on their own journeys. He shared some advice to those who are starting their careers:

  • Challenge Yourself: Ask yourself these questions: Am I giving this job all I possibly can? Am I getting all that I can from this role? Where do I stand?
  • Strong Skills: Mike looks for great communicators on his team. The number one skill that he thinks companies look for is the ability to write excellently. Hard skills are important.
  • Problem Solver: While a lot of people get into PR because they are people persons, Mike is a firm believer that you have to be a problem solver. PR is not an industry for the meek. He looks for people who can solve problems for people and organizations and believes that we don’t make advancements without challenging the status quo.
  • Emotional IQ: The ability to understand audiences and have empathy for people you encounter is critically important. In order to be analytical, you must recognize your audience and their needs.

Mike is simply an amazing individual. His extraordinary background, relentless drive and pure compassion for others has defined his career and will continue to do so no matter what he chooses to pursue next.

A family man, Mike enjoys spending time with his wife, children and grandchildren and is currently renovating a house in South Carolina. Even in his free time, Mike is a busy man — I don’t think he’d have it any other way.

Zoe Krey is a graduate student studying Public Relations and Advertising at DePaul University. She currently works at MSL, a top 6 global PR agency, in addition to being a full-time student.

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