Erick Fernandez calls it a speed bump in his early career, but for many, it could have just been too much. Fresh out of college, Fernandez wanted to start his career at one of the Big Five firms. If that number seems one more than you’re used to hearing as of late, that’s only the half of it.
His second day working at the accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, was September 11, 2001. Along with the list of horrors accompanying those terrorist attacks, it also acted as a morbid exclamation point for the downfall of the dot-com era. Mere months later, Arthur Andersen, seen by most as “too big to fail” before that term had been coined, went down in the Enron scandal. The Big Five was suddenly the Big Four. Fernandez had just gotten out of college.
But it didn’t deter the young graduate. He’s now the current chief accounting officer at CareMax and is as unshakeable as someone of his C-suite level should be. “Those moments in my early career just felt like speed bumps,” Fernandez says casually. “I understood what was happening, took it all in, but I just knew that I had so much I wanted to accomplish in my career. I just wanted to soak up more experiences, and I just went to work.”
The next twenty years included extensive auditing work at Ernst & Young as well as finance and accounting work for IT infrastructure solutions company Terremark, where Fernandez was promoted several times. The roles kept expanding, and the accountant’s experiences just kept widening. But why CareMax?
“I have enjoyed being in growing, midsize companies where everything hasn’t been figured out yet,” Fernandez explains. “It has allowed me to be exposed to a wide range of topics and areas of the business. I also wanted the chance to evolve and grow and continue to get more experience. And CareMax has a particular niche; they’re at the epicenter of value-based healthcare. That really struck a chord with me.”
The value-based care model has been making more headway since its official introduction in 2006. The model contends that cost reduction alone is ineffective for healthcare organizations. Better health outcomes for patients provide more value. It may seem elementary, but the number of organizations that have been able to concurrently drive down costs and provide better patient outcomes can probably be counted on a hand or maybe two.
It’s been nearly a year since Fernandez came aboard, but he’s already thinking about continuous improvement. He arrived just in time to be thrown into the middle of a significant acquisition of the Medicare value-based care business of Steward Health Care System, whose operations aligned well with CareMax’s model—the initial purchase price included $25 million of cash and $23.5 million of CareMax stock.
“I wasn’t here when the deal was signed but worked to finalize all of the accounting,” Fernandez explains. “I’ve done a lot of acquisitions, but this was unique because I was not there for the full cycle of the deal. It’s a lot like trying to jump on a train while it’s moving.”
That didn’t slow down the deal, and Fernandez is looking for more ways to streamline and bring value to the organization from the accounting team. As he looks to the future, he says his field is seeing new challenges that become more obvious by the day.
“There are less CPAs in the world today than there were five years ago,” Fernandez explains. “It’s been that way since I entered the profession. When organizations are looking for an experienced hire, well, there’s fewer qualified candidates than there was in the past.”
With the Securities and Exchange Commission’s bar methodically rising (especially during the Biden administration), the impact of COVID-19 and working from home, the challenge is to find the candidate that is the right fit for the position and the organization.
“That’s why retaining your people and making sure you engage them is so important, now more than ever,” he says. “If you’re not making the additional effort to retain them, you run the risk of increased turnover as replacing those critical employees has become more difficult, not to mention the institutional knowledge that’s lost.”
For Fernandez, that means being as accommodating as he can be to employees by providing flexible work schedules so they can meet their family or other obligations. Whatever the “new normal” is, the chief accounting officer says he is looking to adapt and evolve to the changing trends.
He just hopes that the trends change, and more people enter the field he loves and get the experience they need that will prepare them for leadership down the line.
Fernandez wants to see more CPAs working through their own speed bumps, and eventually leading accounting organizations as he’s done. There are no shortcuts, and the path will always have its fair share of challenges.
But Fernandez says that hard work pays off. He wouldn’t change much about his past, but he can’t wait to see how he’s going to change tomorrow.
Segrera Associates would like to congratulate Erick Fernandez on this well-deserved recognition. We are a professional recruiting and staffing firm that has been partnering with executives and business owners to identify world class talent for over twenty years. Our areas of recruiting expertise are accounting, finance, and human resources professionals as well as information technology professionals.