Editor’s Note: Leadership can mean different things to different people. The Valley Business Report turned to experienced business leaders in the Rio Grande Valley to learn more about their views on leadership in their own words. Through a question-and-answer format, Leadership Matters presents comments on leadership from Valley CEOs and other business leaders.
Frank Fernandez has been plant manager for Duro Bag at the Port of Brownsville since 2015. With more than 30 years in the paper industry, Duro Bag’s parent company Novolex recruited him for the job. A native of Peru, Fernandez grew up in Brazil and has worked throughout Latin American as well as the United States.
He graduated from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania with a degree in mechanical engineering. He also earned a master’s degree from Louisiana’s Tulane University.
Fernandez started his career in the oil industry with Halliburton before moving into the paper industry. He worked with International Paper in Puerto Rico and was director of operations for Georgia Pacific in Wisconsin before relocating to the Rio Grande Valley.
VBR: What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?
Fernandez: I would say the most important decision that I make is to ensure that we have done everything necessary to improve the working conditions of our most valued resource – our employees. This decision involves identifying opportunities to make the environment safe for our employees, improvements in working conditions, review current training processes and improve employee engagement. In fact, we have recently engaged in discussions about improving the temperature conditions on the floor. We also focus on making certain our employees have an understanding about how their work efforts affect the success of the plant, which ultimately has a positive impact on employees through continued employment and provides them a sense of value.
VBR: What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess? Why?
Fernandez: As a leader your most important job is to help make your employees successful and celebrate those successes with them. A leader should be there to listen to his people. In order to be successful you need to engage your employees and get their buy in the processes you will establish to get to your goals
VBR: Describe your approach to building productive relationships with employees?
Fernandez: Your duty as a leader is to get to know your employees. This means find out what their life outside of work is and what it means to them. Sometimes it is important to adjust to the needs of your employees to make them feel that you care for them. An example would be allowing a single mom to change her schedule during the summer months so that she can spend most of the daylight hours with her child. Knowing your people will help a leader motivate them.
VBR: What is your greatest frustration as a business leader?
Fernandez: My greatest frustration in the Rio Grande Valley is the lack of technical talent for the jobs available. Young people leave the Valley because they believe that more money offered in bigger markets will satisfy them. Invariably they find out that reality is different. They leave a special and very affordable place that has a unique culture, one that invariably they will want to come back to.
VBR: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing business leaders today?
Fernandez: The biggest challenges are promoting careers in our manufacturing community, developing the skilled workforce and providing good opportunities. We need to change the perception people have of manufacturing careers. We need to rebrand and promote our industry.
VBR: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
Fernandez: Listen and ask a lot of questions. There is no shame in asking for help. You will make mistakes but learn from them, and don’t repeat them. Finally, take care of your employees because they are the ones that will make you successful.
If you know of a Valley business leader you would like to see featured in Leadership Matters, please email the information to Managing Editor George Cox at email@example.com.