A Discussion with Healthcare Billionaire Mike Fernandez

Emigrating from Cuba in 1964 at the age of 12, Mike Fernandez rose from being a grocery delivery boy in New York City to the billionaire founder of MBF Healthcare Partners, a private equity firm, and Simply Healthcare Plans, partnered with Magic Johnson Enterprises to provide services to people with HIV/AIDS. Surviving two heart attacks and prostate cancer, his inspirational success story is told in his first book Humbled by the Journey: Life Lessons For My Family… And Yours where he also outlines uses his formula for entrepreneurial success. Here, I interview Fernandez on the elements that helped shaped him to into a healthcare juggernaut and philanthropist extraordinaire.

Lakhan: Who has shaped you the most and how?

Fernandez: I inherited my genetic composition to be a risk manager and explore business options from my father. But it was my mother and father’s moral compass that allow me to reach the success I have enjoyed. It not just making the money, it’s more important to know that you made it while still advancing your core values.

I would add that my tolerance for risk and think out of the box was definitely shaped by my years in the US Army. I faced many uncertainties as a soldier, and although I never lost a sense of fear, I learned how to manage it and operate under stressful situations.

Lakhan: To you, what defines success?

Fernandez: Both my personal and business success has been the result of high “lifestyle values”. Unlike what some believe, business success can be achieved while still doing good. This includes your clients, your team members and your communities. Success without core values such as fairness, integrity, honesty and a sense of giving back is not worth achieving.

Lakhan: What has been your most successful endeavor?

Fernandez: My first act of charitable giving. I was making $500 per month when I read about a young girl who had lost both legs in a fire (I read about her in a newspaper). I found her, a children hospital agreed to provide therapy and I purchased an old set of orthotics. All of this was coordinated by the hospital’s foundation and she never knew who arranged it all. I was 23 years old.

Lakhan: What has been your least successful endeavor?

Fernandez: I’ve had many. But the one that hurts me the most is putting my children through two divorces. Work was my priority and I have never succeeded at a good balancing act.

Lakhan: How does one become a great entrepreneur?

Fernandez: Recognize that if someone is paying you $1, it is probably because they are making at least $2 from your contribution. Then follow this formula:

S… Sacrifice
U… Urgency in all you do
P… Passion and perseverance
E… Execution of the smallest details
R… Results that you are proud of

Lakhan: What has been the greatest gift you have received?

Fernandez: My family. My values.

Lakhan: What has been the greatest gift you have given?

Fernandez: Changing lives. Whoever we sell a business I ask the management to set aside a significant portion of the sales price the shareholders are receiving and give it to certain contributors in the organization.

For example, it is normal that the senior management team will receive stock options which, once converted into shares, should represent significant gains. We go one step further. We ask each manager to identify the non-management personnel who their team felt made continuous contributions to our enterprise. This could be a receptionist, a file clerk, a customer service representatives, a driver and so on. With that list in mind we develop formulas taking into consideration how long they were in the company and their contribution.

We have done these types of analysis under the radar, but some have been picked up by the press. One that was kind of funny (because of the way the employee called the press to tell a reporter that she had just received an early Christmas gift). Well the secret got out and we had to admit that we had just given $27 million to lower level employees and an additional $60 million plus to managers and supervisors.

I am sure that cat is out of the bag on our current deal, scheduled to close within the next two weeks. In this transaction we are distributing just over $100 million to non-shareholder employees. I know that these deeds have and will continue to change lives for the better.

Lakhan: How did you get involved in health insurance?

Fernandez: I had just left the Army in 1975 when my salary was $278 per month. In my new job I has making $500 per month plus commission. To me, was like doubling my salary. I sold insurance because the income was directly proportional to how hard I wanted to work. There was not a job beneath me.

Lakhan: How can health insurance be improved?

Fernandez: Can you handle the truth? Agent the government out of it!

Image via Florida Trend.

Shaheen E Lakhan, MD, PhD, MEd, MS, FAAN

Shaheen E Lakhan, MD, PhD, MEd, MS, FAAN, is a board-certified neurologist and pain specialist, medical educator, and scientist. He is the executive director of the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation (GNIF). He is a published scholar in biomarkers, biotechnology, education technology, and neurology. He serves on the editorial board of several scholarly publications and has been honored by the U.S. President and Congress.
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