By Derek Reveron
November 2000 - One recent evening, Proxicom Inc. founder and CEO Raul Fernandez learned that a major competitor in the Internet consulting business lowered its earnings expectations, and Wall Street would likely downgrade the entire sector. He called analysts and shareholders late into the night to assure them that Proxicom’s business was still strong. The next morning, he made more calls. About halfway through the day he told HISPANIC BUSINESS: “It gives me a headache to deal with something that’s not my own creation. I have to constantly restate the obvious to a lot of people because of sector problems. It’s not fun on days like this.”
But the good days far outweigh the bad. Proxicom’s business has doubled every year since Mr. Fernandez founded it in 1991. Last year the Virginia-based company posted revenues of $82.7 million, with profits of $4 million. It employs nearly 800 people and has a deep roster of Fortune 500 clients, including General Motors, General Electric, Merrill Lynch, Mobil, and Mercedes-Benz Credit Corp.
Best of all, Mr. Fernandez took Proxicom public in April 1999, and he still owns about 25 percent of the stock. Fortune recently named him one of the country’s 40 richest people under 40. The magazine estimates his net worth at $287 million.
The 34-year-old entrepreneur, a former aide to Congressman Jack Kemp, is having the time of his life. He owns interests in the Washington Wizards basketball team and the Washington Capitals hockey team. He has talked with Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga about buying a stake in that team. In June, he married Jean Marie Ferenz, a former cosmetics company executive. Tony Bennett sang at the wedding, attended by 270 people. In July, he spoke at the Republican National Convention.
Hobnobbing at parties and charitable events with Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, and Dan Marino, Mr. Fernandez has emerged as a celebrity in Washington, D.C. “I’m viewed as a kind of a poster child for new Internet riches in the Washington area, and for making the transition from the Hill to high-tech and to sports team ownership,” he says. “I like the attention because it helps build the company’s brand recognition, but I’m basically a private person.”
Much of the star treatment stems from Mr. Fernandez’s status as a local success story. He grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, son of a Cuban father and an Ecuadoran mother. After arriving in Baltimore, his father worked as an agronomist for W.R. Grace & Co. and later for the Inter-American Development Bank. In 1980, the couple enrolled their only son in St. John’s College High School, a private Catholic military institution for boys. The strict demands for discipline shocked young Raul at first, but he adapted quickly. “The biggest shock was off-campus, with some of the 1970s anti-military attitude still in existence,” he remembers. “People made snide comments. One person called me a baby killer or something.”
While still in high school, Mr. Fernandez attended a Capitol Hill fundraiser for Hispanic Republicans with his father, one of whose friends introduced them to Mr. Kemp’s chief of staff. The aide mentioned that the Congressman could use a part-time intern able to translate Spanish documents. The young Mr. Fernandez got the job. Meanwhile, at home and at school, he spent hours on the laptop computer that his parents had purchased. The caption under his high school yearbook reads, “Most remembered for being the first to have a computer.”
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