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A Double Demon Success Story

As a Business Professional, Researcher and Teacher, Michael Fernandez Gives Back to DePaul

When Double Demon Michael Fernandez (BUS ’07, MBA’17) first applied for college, there was no question in his mind about where he would go. He was practically a DePaul Blue Demon by birth, so he only sent an application to one school — DePaul University. Now as an accomplished accountancy professional and two-time business commencement speaker, he is paying it forward by bringing his professional experience into the classroom as an adjunct professor and researcher at DePaul’s School of Accountancy.

“DePaul was part of my master plan since I was young,” Fernandez says. “When you weave the whole story together, my mother went to DePaul, my wife went to DePaul, my mother-in-law went to DePaul, and one day my son will go to DePaul. We are DePaul. It sounds cliché, but it couldn’t be any truer.”

As an undergraduate in DePaul’s Strobel Honors program for accountancy majors, Fernandez joined the Midwest Association of Hispanic Accountants (MAHA) student chapter after receiving a flyer in the mail. Under Associate Professor Elizabeth Murphy’s guidance, Fernandez became involved in MAHA case competitions representing MAHA regionally and nationally — earning recognition for the organization and the university. The experience was invaluable, he says, because the case competitions enabled him to hone his skills for public speaking, presenting technical matters and showcasing the knowledge that he gained at DePaul.

“I was a relatively quiet person when I first stepped onto the campus and didn't have any public speaking experience,” Fernandez recalls. “Through the case competitions, I had to really know the content, articulate it confidently and be seen as an expert. I never did anything like this before and presenting a case gave me a great feeling of accomplishment.”

With his newfound public speaking experience, Fernandez built upon that confidence and networked at student organization events, gaining exposure to different accounting firms in the city. He met recruiters during a National Association of Black Accountants banquet and through these connections received an internship at Deloitte, the firm where he would work over the next decade. Before graduating and joining Deloitte in a full-time role, Fernandez earned the opportunity to be the student speaker at his commencement ceremony.

“I grew to enjoy speaking in front of people and the opportunity to be the voice of my class really appealed to me,” Fernandez says. “It was a fitting capstone to my undergraduate career and a huge honor.”

After working in public accounting for 10 years, Fernandez transitioned to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board and sought to expand his knowledge through a graduate degree. There was never a question as to where he would go, only which degree to pursue. He decided to get an MBA from DePaul with a dual concentration in strategy, execution and valuation (SEV) and business strategy and decision making.

“What appealed to me about SEV in particular was performing real-time, fluid analysis of what's going on in the (business) world,” he says. “It didn’t feel like a traditional program. The classes were responsive to what is going on today versus learning a lesson about what happened 40 years ago. The real world examples discussed in classes represent the challenges that companies face today, and that really resonated with me.”

Through the program Fernandez conducted research, studying a company's life cycle and analyzing the challenges and opportunities they are facing. He also performed SEV research for Professor Mark Frigo, the director of the Center for Strategy, Execution and Valuation and Strategic Risk Management Lab. The research focuses on current examples of companies that have either found success or failure and how they applied various conceptual frameworks, like the return driven strategy framework.

Fernandez graduated from DePaul’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business and once again earned the opportunity to give the commencement address.

“My second speech had a completely different perspective,” says Fernandez. “I was no longer a bright-eyed undergrad looking at the challenges of the world. I was coming back a decade later post-financial crisis with a lot of experience under my belt. It’s a new day. There are new challenges. There are new opportunities.”

Shortly after earning his MBA, Fernandez began working at FGMK where he serves as a director in the assurance practice and quality control group. His goal is to use what he learned at DePaul to truly make a difference at his organization. In addition to continuing his SEV research, he just finished teaching his first course, Accounting 547 Graduate Auditing I, as an adjunct professor at DePaul.

“Teaching interested me because I lived in the audit world for so long and hopefully I can impart some of what I have experienced outside of the walls of DePaul and use that to supplement what is in the textbook,” Fernandez says. “I believe that you can read a textbook cover to cover, but if you can't appreciate that real world application, you are going to have a hard time understanding why the concepts are important. Also, my wife is a teacher for Chicago Public Schools, so I have one of the best role models possible.”

With two degrees under his belt, Fernandez is confident that DePaul prepares students to think critically and evaluate problems effectively — skills that be believes students must master to be successful after graduation. Fernandez knows what it is like to be a DePaul student, so he always takes a step back to have students see the value in what they are learning.

“Where I am today is all about my DePaul story,” says Fernandez. “If it wasn't for the flyer in the mail to join MAHA, if I didn’t network with the firms or give the commencement addresses, I wouldn’t be where I am today. All the stars aligned the right way for a reason and now I can give back to DePaul. I believe that if you can give back to the school whether through donating, research or teaching, the impact could be huge for the future. The smallest thing, like a mail flyer, can mean a lot for the next generation of DePaul students.”