‘Follow Your Passion and What’s In Your Heart’: Tupperware CEO Miguel Fernandez (MBA ’01) Shares Skillsets for Executive Success
By Mary Shea Watson
When University of Virginia Darden School of Business alumnus Miguel Fernandez (MBA ’01) began his tenure as CEO of Tupperware in April 2020, the company was in a dire financial state and the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning. Fernandez, who was born in Mexico, was living in London at the time. With embassies closed due to the onset of the pandemic, Fernandez and his family couldn’t relocate to the United States to begin his new role. Plus, Tupperware — whose stock was valued at $1.41 a share at the time — and its 75-year-old direct-selling strategy quickly needed to modernize.
“We had to make some tough calls [to reduce costs and restructure the company],” Fernandez said. “We had to do what the business case said, which was to rescue the company — and that’s what we did.”
Under Fernandez’s leadership over the past 18 months, the Tupperware stock rose to over $22 per share and revenues climbed 17 percent year-over-year as the company continued to execute on its turnaround plan. In a recent Career Center Leadership Speaker program, Fernandez joined the Darden community in a virtual Q&A moderated by Casey Floyd (GEMBA ’17), director of employer engagement and recruiting, to share advice, learnings and what he recommends the next generation of business leaders consider in their career decisions.
Believe That You’re Responsible for Everything
For Fernandez, great leaders consistently hold themselves accountable. He referenced the philosophy of “unconditional responsibility,” or the notion that one’s own actions can explain the consequences of most situations.
“Everything is your responsibility. Once you believe that you’re responsible for anything, the whole world shifts. Now everything depends on you,” Fernandez said. He used the example of not receiving a job offer: “It’s not because they didn’t like you, it’s because you didn’t do enough to make the company like you. That mindset puts you in a place of power.”
“Trust that you have the skillset and energy,” Fernandez said. “Sometimes you do your best and things don’t happen the way you wanted them to. You can still go to bed satisfied that you did all you could.”
Being in the Right Job for You Is Priceless
Fernandez encouraged students and attendees to pursue their passions, rather than the jobs that everyone else is going after, or what makes the most sense on a resume. He cautioned listeners against the myth of “all or nothing” — the idea that “I’ll be happy once I’m CEO,” Fernandez said.
“Once you find your passion with the talent and preparation you already have, you’re going to be successful. [Success] will come eventually,” said Fernandez. “If you’re not happy in the entry-level role, you’re never going to be happy. It’s the journey that counts, and the process of getting there that makes you happy and successful.”
Interview Companies as Much as They’re Interviewing You
As First Years looked toward the start of the busy application and interviewing season, one student asked Fernandez how he knew he’d be happy in roles he accepted.
During interactions with interviewers and recruiters, Fernandez encouraged the student to “make sure that you relate to the way they operate personally and professionally.” Fernandez cautioned students against accepting an offer simply because it’s from an elite company or “it’s what everyone else is doing,” he said.
“There is a lot of information out there nowadays, so go ask all of the tough questions,” Fernandez said. If they’re not happy with you asking those questions, then you have your answer.”
Build as Many as Bridges as You Can
The term “networking” doesn’t resonate with Fernandez. He encouraged listeners to reframe networking opportunities as building friendships, instead.
“Darden has so much student talent and potential; more than one of you will be a CEO, lead a bank, consulting company or even a government,” said Fernandez. “Every day you’re interacting with people who could be your friends for life. Build bridges and friendships from a good place in your heart, because everyone brings something to the table.”
Let Ideas Rather Than Titles Influence You
As CEO, Fernandez believes it’s his responsibility to create environments where colleagues feel comfortable in challenging his thinking. He wants to be influenced by ideas rather than job titles.
“Sometimes I come up with crazy ideas just to provoke thinking. It’s how I try to see if a group is ready to challenge my position,” said Fernandez. “You’re not going to hurt my feelings by going against what I’m saying, because I don’t have the same information as you.”
He continued: “If all of us come up with an idea, I don’t have to sell it. The result is going to be better and more thoughtful.”
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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