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On the Case With…

Each month, as part of “The Business Case for Public Relations,” PRSA asks an industry leader to reflect on his or her career and make a “business case” for public relations.

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On the Case With… Mike Fernandez

July 5, 2016

Mike Fernandez
Mike Fernandez

For the past six years, Mike Fernandez has led Cargill’s global corporate affairs activities, including corporate communications, government relations, corporate social responsibility, brand and marketing services.

Prior to joining Cargill in 2010, he served as chief communications officer for four Fortune 500 companies and before that, he worked in government and politics in Washington, D.C., including as press secretary to U.S. Sen. Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings.

He received a bachelor’s in government and a master’s in accounting both from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He also lectures on reputation management, crisis management and leadership at his alma mater and at New York University.

Fernandez has received numerous honors, including the Alexander Hamilton Medal, the Paladin Award, the Milestones in Mentoring Award, PRWeek’s PR Hall of Fame and the Hispanic Public Relations Association’s Pioneer Award.

Looking to the future, Fernandez says: “CCOs are being asked to step up as business leaders to solve business problems, drive collaboration across all businesses and functions of an organization, and engage the outside world in smarter ways. What we do with technology and our relationships is what matters. Winners in our profession, going forward, will be those who can harness and analyze the data and use the tools in ways that bring the outside in and hold up a mirror to and educate our organizations, and allow us to more strategically engage customers and stakeholders in ways that make a difference for them and the world.”

Name: Mike Fernandez

Childhood ambition: Selected in high school as “most likely to become Secretary of State”

Current livelihood: Chief communications officer for five companies and collectively for over 20 years — most recently for Cargill

What changed: Started working in politics and government, and saw that companies had an opportunity to make profits for their shareowners and be forces for positive change

First public relations job: Press secretary to U.S. Sen. Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings (D-S.C.)

What you know now that you wish you’d known then: In politics, people tend to blame others; in real life, you need to take responsibility. We need to stop being the victim, stop being fatalistic and “stand and deliver.” There are lots of people counting on us: our family, our colleagues, the organizations we work for and the world.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received: Dr. Benjamin E. Mayes, former president of Morehouse College and mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others in the civil rights movement, gave me three words: “Never stop learning.”

Greatest professional accomplishment: Track record of developing and directing talented people who improved business results, advanced the reputation of the organizations we served and made a difference in the world — I’m proud that more than a dozen of my former employees have served as CCOs and CMOs in their own right.

If you weren’t in public relations, you would be: Either a college professor or the head of an NGO or nonprofit. Both have opportunities to shape the future and change the world.

Desired legacy: Made a difference

Make a “business case” for public relations: Organizations succeed not just by making a better mousetrap. Nor do they succeed simply by managing costs to produce record earnings. The best organizations sustain themselves by being the best at helping their customers and other stakeholders succeed. To do that well, you need smart, analytical and collaborative people who can turn ideas into reality and nightmares into dreams, and anticipate the next steps.


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