Recently named the CCO of energy company Enbridge, Fernandez spoke to students about starting their careers, landing their first job, and trends in the public relations industry.
In preparation for his Feb. 26 visit to Elon’s campus and his Unity in Communications dinner discussion, Mike Fernandez sought out advice from not one but seven Elon alumni who have worked for him during his distinguished career in strategic communications.
Each one, according to Fernandez, credited Elon for their professional development and landing their first position.
Fernandez has served for nearly three decades as the chief communications officer for a variety of large U.S. corporations including Kodak, Cigna, State Farm and Burson-Marsteller. In somewhat breaking news, in the days following his campus visit, Fernandez left his role as CEO of LLYC, a leading public relations consultancy, to serve as CCO and senior vice president of the energy company Enbridge. In his new position, he will oversee a team of more than 100 people across North America.
Fernandez also teaches strategic communications at Boston University, so he is familiar with college campuses and classrooms. In fact, Fernandez said coming to Elon was “a little bit like coming home.”
After graduating from Georgetown University, Fernandez set off on a remarkable career path and was appointed press secretary for Senator Ernest F. Hollings, a longtime South Carolina Democrat, at the age of 23. In this role he was not only the youngest U.S. Senate Press Secretary ever, but only the second Latino to serve in such a position. As he continued in his career, Fernandez said he often found himself as the only person who looked like him in a room. But that hurdle didn’t stop him from becoming the first U.S.-born Latino to serve as the chief communications officer of a Fortune 500 company.
Throughout the dinner Fernandez offered insight and advice for students with diverse backgrounds entering the public relations industry.
“Think about who you are, and how do you bring your best self to the table for an organization,” Fernandez said. “I think that that’s been an interesting lesson for me over time, is trying to think about how I bring my whole self in a way that is neither defiant, nor off putting to others, but creates greater success for the whole.”
Noah Dyson ’21, a strategic communications major, said he appreciated the opportunity the dinner provided to meet with a barrier-breaking professional. The Elon junior said Fernandez gave insightful advice for when students may be the “only women, the youngest or the person of color in a professional space.”
“He said be confident, walk into the room and believe that you are accepted,” Dyson said. “That struck a chord with me because I have had those moments of doubts, and he shared that at moments he did as well, but he overcame them.”
Students asked questions about Fernandez’s start in the industry as well as his advice about getting a first job. “You should be confident,” Fernandez said. “You’re coming out of Elon.”
Fernandez, who was inducted into the PRWeek Hall of Fame in 2015, is an active member of the Public Relations Society of America.