Lessons from His Father

To lead IT at Eversheds Sutherland, Fernando R. Torres draws on truths learned working in his dad's pizza place

Fernando R. Torres, Director of Technology & Information Services, Eversheds Sutherland

When Fernando R. Torres’s father emptied his savings in 1971 to purchase a tiny pizza restaurant in Mount Rainier, Maryland—just outside of Washington, DC—nine-year-old Torres imagined a sleek, glistening corporate storefront. To his surprise, it was small, modest, and tucked away in a distant, unfamiliar community. Worse, it kept his father at work late into the night, every night of the week.

“Being a milkman, he used to get up at four o’clock and go to bed at seven; then, he was getting up at six and getting home at midnight,” Torres recalls. “When he told my sister and me, we thought it was the greatest thing in the world: ‘Wow! We own a pizza place!’”

It was at his father’s pizza shop that Torres learned the business firsthand— as well as valuable lessons from his father. He’s applied those lessons throughout his career, including in his current position as director of technology and information services at international law firm Eversheds Sutherland.

Between the end-user support, help desk, training, and software application teams, Torres supervises no position he hasn’t worked before. He thanks his father for teaching him to tackle every task with vision and intensity—and for insisting he scrub the toilets and fold boxes in the restaurant.

When four-teen-year-old Torres began working summers and weekends in the pizza parlor, he pictured himself whirling the dough high into the air and catching it with verve. Instead, he spent many hours slotting the boxes’ cardboard tabs, mopping floors, and doing other menial tasks. His father, who often took on those jobs as well, insisted that there was no task too hard or humble for him and his son.

Torres headed to college in the fall of 1979 to study business administration, assuming he would eventually own and operate his own restaurant. But, he quickly became disillusioned with his professors, who seemed to possess little practical knowledge, and simply quit studying; he and the school administrators agreed that perhaps the institution was not for him. Back in Mount Rainier, his father was preparing to open a second location.

Soon, Torres was managing the first restaurant while his father captained the second— an ideal, practical education that soon proved that the lifestyle was not for him.

In 1983, three years after leaving school, Torres began browsing the classified ads after work without quite knowing what he was looking for. One night, he spotted an opening for a “word processor.” It seemed like a decent opportunity, so he sought out a class to learn word processing and basic computer technology.

But, first, he had to explain his plan to his father, who had welcomed him home from college, taught him to manage the restaurant, and incorporated the modest-but-growing family business empire as F. Torres & Son, Inc.

“I was scared to tell him because I didn’t want to let him down,” Torres says. “He must have been in his fifties, and here I am saying I’m going to bail. He was fantastic, very supportive, and did not hold me back whatsoever when it would have been very easy.” Instead, he emphasized a principle that had kept their restaurants thriving: if you’re doing this, make sure you work harder than everybody else.

So he did. Torres reversed his rocky academic career, studying until three in the morning and waking up a few short hours later to start work at the restaurant. “I was the best in that class, and I was never the best in any class,” he says with a laugh. That experience opened up the tech world, where he has since served at a number of large legal institutions.

Now, with Eversheds Sutherland in the midst of a major desktop refresh project, including the introduction of a virtual desktop infrastructure environment, he often returns to another of his father’s lessons: always ask questions, and don’t fear looking foolish.

“Acronyms and concepts come up in all kinds of meetings, and I don’t ever hesitate asking, ‘What the hell does that mean?’” Torres says. “And I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘I really admire your courage to ask; I had no idea, but I didn’t want to look stupid.’”

That courage has helped Torres ascend through the profession. His first major position was as director of computer applications for Akerman Senterfitt, in Orlando, Florida. After Torres spent ten happy years there, though, his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. So, he returned to the DC area—where he found his current position at Eversheds Sutherland—to help provide care until his father passed away in 2014.

In a tech world flooded with acronyms and whirling rapidly into unpredictable tomorrows, Torres also thanks his father for teaching him to look ahead and lay deliberate plans. He recalls how his father would brace him with his arm in the passenger seat of his car. He was looking six cars ahead, checking for brake lights, and reminding his son that long-term preparation is key to both safe driving and business success: if you look only at the car in front of you, when the crisis strikes, it’s too late.

“He said, ‘You’ve got to do that with everything in life: look at where the decisions you make impact you in the years ahead,’” Torres says. “Later, he would expand that to, ‘Don’t always be looking to make the quick dollar. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Do things that will pay off later on. Don’t get caught ,up in what’s right here in your face.’”