During the most recent MBA commencement ceremony, John Fernandez, entrepreneur and former chief executive officer of Ashland-based Daystar Desserts, delivered an inspiring address to graduates, faculty, and guests. Daystar Desserts is the creator of the World's Best Cheesecake and various other bakery desserts. Under Fernandez’s leadership, Daystar grew from 15 to 15,000 cakes a day, and employs 155 workers in its 42,000-square foot building in Ashland. 

In 2010, John Fernandez was selected as Virginia’s Small Business Person of the Year by the Small Business Administration.

Because of his success at Daystar and in the culinary world, Fernandez has been featured in The New York Times, Distinctions Magazine, Virginia This Morning, CBS Morning Show, QVC and The Food Network.

Daystar Desserts was acquired by Massachusetts-based Dianne’s Fine Desserts in 2015 and now Fernandez is focusing his efforts in another entrepreneurial venture and in the community.  He has served as a guest lecturer and mentor in the MBA program, and has sponsored three MBA capstone projects.  Below is an excerpt of his impactful commencement speech.  

“Before I say anything, I want to commend all of you for making the choice you’ve made to learn in this amazing establishment! I have worked with almost every college and university in Virginia and I have to honestly say that the students from the University of Richmond are head and shoulders above all the others I have worked with. I have personally been enriched and educated by the students and faculty in this group and I am so, so thankful for that!

People have accused me of being a success because I have built some prosperous businesses; but how did I do it? How did the son of a poor immigrant with an associate’s degree in Culinary Arts and a salary of $9.00 per hour, crack the code to profits that were triple the industry average and create sustained growth consistently for 18 years?

Here it is in the condensed version:

I inspired others with a vision; I became a leader; I took care of my people; I collected knowledge.

Lets be clear about something, success is not defined by the placement of the decimal point on your paycheck nor is it defined by the a bordered box on an org chart! I believe it is about the impact you make. It is about whether or not you leave this world, at least someone’s world, in better condition than when you showed up. And it’s about becoming the best version of yourself, the person God has designed you to be. That is my definition of success.

The reason why I learned to be a CEO when I was only educated to be a chef was because I collected knowledge through books, videos, articles, classes, etc., but mostly because I collected people. That’s right. I am an avid collector of remarkable people. This is the real “secret sauce” to my recipes. I have surrounded myself with the very best people I could find, this is evident when you meet my wife and kids. From these amazing people I have learned to be an expert in reading financial reports, building strategic plans, product development, I’ve even learned how to drive a forklift. I’m not smarter or better than the average Joe; what I have learned, I have garnered from other people. I diligently sought them out, spent time with them, asked lots of questions, and then I listened. It’s that simple.

My father told me; “the people you spend your time with is who you will become in five years”. Well, I surrounded myself with amazing leaders who were successful and happy. I surrounded myself with exceptional operators with lots of experience. I sought advice from men and women who were of great character and wisdom. After a while, some of it finally rubbed off.

This school has impacted me in a way that is a perfect example. Eight years ago I was contacted by Debbie Fisher, assistant director of The Richmond MBA, who offered to include me in a Capstone Project and we have done a total of three Capstones since then. These were impactful connections. They made a major difference in my company. I was the beneficiary of some incredible work because I opened myself up and surrounded myself with the right people. They in turn made me and my company better.”

Collect Remarkable People!