Ted Fernandez

A Calculated Risk

Ted Fernandez (BSAc ’78) was staring at what most would consider a dream opportunity. He was the youngest of six candidates for the open Chairman position at KPMG while already running the firm’s strategic consulting business and serving as a member of its executive committee.

However, he was also beginning to think about starting his own company. He had stability and was moving up at KPMG, but the thought of building his own organization was always a yearning.

“There’s always a point in your career where you have to make an important decision,” Fernandez said. “I was led by a burning desire to do something different on my own. It seemed like the timing was right.”

After 18 years with KPMG, Fernandez withdrew from the running for the Chairman position and decided to leave the company. One of his early conversations about the transition was with Ed Miller (BSBA ’78), an accounting friend who also graduated from UF and was working at Goldman Sachs. Miller introduced Fernandez to Bruce Rauner, who currently serves as the Governor of Illinois. Fernandez, with Miller’s help, ultimately raised half the money to start his own venture and Rauner funded the other half through GTCR, his private equity firm.

Fernandez founded AnswerThink in May 1997. Instead of sitting in his large office on the 30th floor of KPMG’s south Florida office, he was now sharing an office an investor allowed him to use with two other people.

But success came quickly to his new venture. Six months after AnswerThink was founded, they acquired The Hackett Group. Fernandez knew he was gaining a valuable brand, and that was able to expedite the company’s growth. One year after the acquisition occurred, the company went public.

“We had incredible success at a very rapid pace,” Fernandez said.

Today, The Hackett Group serves as an intellectual property-based strategic consultancy and leading enterprise benchmarking and best practices implementation firm to global companies. The company offers digital transformation and enterprise application approaches, including robotic process automation and cloud computing. Services include business transformation, enterprise performance management, working capital management, and global business services.

The hard times came in the spring of 2000. The market crashed and NASDAQ plummeted. Companies across the country were reevaluating their model and searching for the most effective way to move forward. The Hackett Group was no different.

“It was about realigning the business for the best opportunity,” Fernandez said. “For us, we decided that was to recreate the company leveraging the intellectual capital we had and continue to have today.”

The Hackett Group has now become a formidable competitor to the Big Four accounting firms.

“What I’m most proud of was how our brand and services compete so effectively against these much larger competitors today,” Fernandez said. “We created that from scratch and compete effectively against these massive firms that have done it for 100 years.”

UF is where Fernandez grew in accounting. While a student, he also started a local dance studio and club. Professors joked with him about being able to focus on his studies, but being able to learn in the classroom and immediately apply it to his entrepreneurial pursuits was beneficial.

“I really benefitted from the UF environment and entrepreneurial involvement I had in Gainesville,” Fernandez said. “It helped me that everything I was learning in the classroom was being applied in some of the startups I had. I left UF with a much richer experience because of my involvement on and off campus.”