The Power of Perseverance
Story By: Kristian Jaime
Photos By: Rafael Balcazar & Shelley Gordon
To say that entrepreneurship was always in the Hernandez’ blood is an understatement. The work ethic handed down from a father who worked as a painter evolved to taking the money earned there to start a lawn care business by age 12. The journey from coming to this country as an immigrant to creating one of the largest Hispanic owned businesses in America is one marked by vision, tenacity and a fanatical focus on understanding customers’ needs.
“My family left Cuba and eventually came to the United States via Madrid, Spain,” said Hernandez. “You can imagine what a challenge that is to start over not once, but twice. One of the starkest differences between Cuba and the United States is their economic policies and support of free markets. Later when I went into the telecom industry that stuck with me and I further appreciated the benefits of competition.” During his twenties, Hernandez was entering the telecommunication industry which was on the verge of unprecedented expansion with companies like Nortel Networks. With restructuring well underway in Latin America, a stage in the industry for which Hernandez was present, entrepreneurship was to be rewarded.
The learning curve for a young man on the rise meant earning an MBA from New York University to augment his training as a CPA. Not long after, a little known Texas-based firm named ENRON began restructuring its own approach to the utility market on the wholesale side in an effort to diversify its portfolio. The creation of an open energy sector soon precipitated the rise of independent power producers eager to sell to traditional energy companies.
Hernandez soon saw this as the seminal opportunity for which he was looking and Texas was seemingly the epicenter.
“It’s no surprise that access to affordable energy is one of the leading indicators of economic growth,” Hernandez continued. “Even on a more fundamental level, it is vital to the growth of your human capital. When children don’t have access to that, especially in the evening, it becomes difficult to complete simple tasks like homework or to read.”
The fundamental need for a dynamic, competitive power market, was a big enough draw for Hernandez. Recalling the hard lessons of a single-utility system was all the motivation he needed to jump headfirst into a new field. As the gleam of ENRON loomed large, not even he could anticipate what would occur and the massive scale on which it would happen.
With corporate profits ballooning in late 90s and early 2000s, it seemed there was no ceiling to the potential of modern business. Yet it would come to screeching halt, and in so doing, sacrificing the livelihoods of thousands of longtime employees.
December of 2001 saw the energy giant file for the largest bankruptcy in history to that point. Like many others, Hernandez gathered his belongings and had to bounce back yet again. But what may have seemed impossible to others led him to write a business plan of his own—this time for a company called Liberty Power. For the first time, “deregulation” or “restructuring” allowed for independent power producers to sell energy to utilities and other energy providers, while also allowing businesses and consumers to shop for electricity in many parts of the country. Electric choice created an emerging market in the energy sector - Hernandez was entering a brave new world - and was carving out a niche for himself. While most of the early entrants into the marketplace focused on only very large energy users, Liberty Power’s vision was to provide the same level of cost-savings and customer service to small business owners that was typically only reserved for the largest consumers.
Liberty Power first started offering electricity to small business owners in New York City. Today, the Florida-based company is among the most innovative in the field and has expanded its efforts, now selling to all customer segments: residential, small commercial, large national accounts, in addition to government agencies across the nation. While it will always trace it roots to serving small businesses, Liberty Power has served 20% of the Fortune 500, many of whom value working with a certified minority-business enterprise. In fact, they’ve received awards from some of its national accounts like JCPenney and Frito Lay, a division of PepsiCo.
Liberty Power is the largest owner-operated retail electricity supplier in the United States. In 2012, Liberty Power received the distinction of being the largest Hispanic-owned Energy Company in the U.S. and the eighth largest Hispanic-owned company overall on the Hispanic Business 500. The company is also the first minority-owned, retail electric provider with a national footprint. Currently, it serves hundreds of thousands of accounts in 14 states.
For a man with much to be boastful, the personal and business motto has always been the same. Stay humble, hungry and smart. Such life lessons echo so seamlessly back to the five-year-old child who still is very much in touch with his roots.
As for the future, globalism is forging a new paradigm with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at its core.
“You’re going see more energy generated from renewable sources like wind and solar. Some of this will be utility-scale and in others it will be onsite like rooftop solar. Our energy grid will have to [evolve] to support our new populations and it will be dynamic,” concluded Hernandez.