For a man in his early thirties, Fernando Garcia, MBA ’11 has seen a lifetime of highs and lows. He has covered many miles and a full spectrum of life lessons. Born in Los Angeles to parents who migrated from Mexico, he endured their divorce, his father’s estrangement and his mother’s death by the time he was 19 years old. Within five years he would graduate from college and become a millionaire.
Fernando has firsthand knowledge of unsustainable business. After his mother died, he took over her formalwear shop while studying finance at the University of Arizona.
“My way of surviving was to block out grief and put all my energy into running the business. That’s when I formed the idea that success was making money.”
In the midst of Arizona’s land rush, Fernando bought a rental property, sold real-estate developments, and invested in a development of his own.
“When the downturn started in 2006, I kept at it and did well enough to keep going. I was so sure of what I was doing, it took me a long time to see that I was overleveraged and undercapitalized. Plus, I hit a peak of exhaustion. But it took until 2008 for me to say, ‘This isn’t for me,’ and I began to redefine personal success.”
A Year of Change
In a single year, Fernando lost his livelihood, his fiancée, and his health, requiring back surgery in 2009. He seldom talks about that year because he doesn’t want anyone feeling sorry for him.
“I needed to stop and look back at what I could learn. The shock of what happened was like a slap in the face. ‘This is not good,’ I said to myself. ‘This is not what you’re supposed to be doing.’ I was faking happiness, looking for immediate gratification instead of fulfillment.”
Fernando admits that he loves business and finance. But he has become as interested in doing good as in doing well.
“Working in development showed me how it ruined the environment. I ignored it as long as I could, but my thinking shifted, and I knew that I wanted to work to protect the environment.”
But first, he needed to get away from everything he had known.
“I wanted to do something positive, he says, in a forceful way that shows his energy and optimism. He and his canine pal, Chuck, moved to Florida. I wanted to figure a few things out, and I knew I wanted to go back to school.”
In the process of supporting himself, Fernando says he nearly stepped onto another slippery slope.
“I was washing boats, out on the ocean. I liked taking a paycheck and having time off. I had good friends. It was reaffirming and awesome. I was happy.” Soon, he was hired to maintain the boats, then prepare them for sale. Around the same time, he cooked for his friends, who loved his food and encouraged him to buy a vending cart and serve hungry partiers who spilled out of the nightclubs in the wee hours.
“Then I noticed that I was doing the same thing as before taking on a lot of stuff to try to make more money. I sold the food cart. I had to catch myself again,” Fernando said.
Finding a Program that Fit
When he began to research MBA programs, he worried that schools with long-standing reputations might not support the philosophical shift he had adopted.
“Once I came upon Antioch, the choice was easy. I like that the whole philosophy is different. The culture in New England supports an understanding of the environment and human well-being that I didn’t find where I had been,” he said.
Determined to explore the unknown, he moved to Keene without visiting. He had once attended a wedding in Vermont, and liked what he saw and felt.
“I wanted to immerse myself in a culture different from mine, he said. I mean, there aren’t really many Mexicans around here.”
At the time of our conversation, Fernando was facing his first snowy winter, and looking forward to it. “Chuck may not like the cold, but he’ll be okay. I made the right choice. I love what I’m studying. And I laugh when people refer to this as an ‘alternative’ kind of MBA. This program teaches the standard for what people should know the triple bottom line should be common. Everything you hear about saving our planet, about finite resources, and accounting for them this program reconciles that with good business. It’s teaching me to approach problems, not one at a time, but by recognizing how they are part of an overall system. I’m learning that solutions have to: one take into account their effect on all parts of the system; two be effective, and three be something we can live with.”
He also expressed amazement at the faculty’s flexibility and willingness to address students’ needs. “They respond to possibilities. My cohort sees evidence of their interest in serving us, so we can go out and become effective agents of change.”
Fernando’s sense of adventure continues. Having opted for the accelerated program of MBA study, he finished in one year. After a few years, he would like to take his expertise back to Los Angeles and work for the city. Full circle, “I know,” he says. “It’s smoggy, dirty, and beautiful at the same time. I love it.”