Success came fast for Raul Fernandez ’90 at the University of Maryland. He turned a part-time job on Capitol Hill into something more after graduation, and soon he was running a growing partnership with NeXT, a high-tech startup founded by Steve Jobs. “We grew a very little team — a lot of Maryland guys — into a decent team,” Fernandez said on April 18, 2018, during the Robert G. Hisaoka Speaker Series at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.
Just as the NeXT partnership was about to take off, its investors opted to bring in an experienced executive above Fernandez to guide him. “That gave me the anger to leave and the emotional incentive to leave,” Fernandez told a packed auditorium in Van Munching Hall. “I just didn’t feel like it was the right move.”
Fernandez was 25 with no debt, no family commitments and no fear. So he quit his job one Friday in 1991 and launched Proxicom the next Monday. The company developed secure commerce environments during the earliest days of the Internet, when the competitive landscape was relatively flat. “There’s a leveling moment that you need to take advantage of,” Fernandez said. “Even the smallest player can quickly become as big as the entrenched players.”
Proxicom grew from four employees to 2,500 employees within 10 years, and eventually sold for $450 million. Fernandez serves today as vice chairman and owner of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, a private partnership that owns the NBA’s Washington Wizards, the NHL’s Washington Capitals and Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.
“What’s been great for me is to be able to see athletes in all the sports that we participate in really apply their energy, their skill, their knowledge to be the best and to win as a team,” Fernandez said. “It’s very similar to building a company.”
Fernandez, the son of a Cuban father and Ecuadorian mother, grew up in Silver Spring, Md.
The Robert G. Hisaoka Speaker Series was created through a three-year gift from Robert G. Hisaoka ’79, who aims to bring business leaders and startup founders to the University of Maryland who will inspire students to explore entrepreneurship. The series is managed by the Smith School’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship.