By Karlee Dies
A boy. A favorite sport of baseball. A dream. And Determination.
Fernando Aguirre was born and raised in Mexico City. His love for baseball started out at an early age.
As a kid around 12 or 13, his father took their family to San Antonio, Texas to play in a baseball tournament.
“At that time, my dad used to speak very good English and we saw him interact with people and he would speak for all of us, the family. He would order food and take us shopping and whatever we wanted to do,” said Aguirre.
It was at this time that in admiration for his dad’s speaking abilities that he too wanted to speak English like he did.
A few years later, a foreign exchange student company came to visit Aguirre’s high school in Mexico City. The organization would find students all over the world and bring them to the United States to live with families for certain lengths of time. Aguirre decided that this was something he wanted to do so he took the opportunity, set it up for a year and paid the $750 fee.
Upon completion of high school, he made the big move to Illinois to live with a family at the age of 17.
“I wanted to play baseball then and I wanted to learn to speak English so I came to live with that family for a year,” said Aguirre.
“I found this family through that company and that company at the time was very good at finding families that had kids that were abroad and the family that I had had already hosted 3 students, one from Japan, one from Brazil and one other one so, they were kind of used to it.”
He remembers being greeted at the airport by a sign with his name on it.
The first few months were extremely difficult for him. He didn’t understand most of what was said to him. He remembers hoping at the time that he could just go back to Mexico and forget about it.
With some convincing from his parents, he knew that he needed to stay and complete the year.
After settling in, he ended up going to high school an extra year to learn more of the English language.
“When I look back, and I think about it, it was very difficult. I struggled in that I didn’t speak that much when I came and I lived with a strange family that I didn’t know.”
He added that this was in the 70’s where computers weren’t accessible and you couldn’t look at photos of the family you’d be going to live with. It proved to be quite the struggle for the young boy who had only been to America to play baseball two or three times before to move to an unfamiliar area without the language skills.
In high school, he was offered a baseball scholarship to Southern Illinois University. He accepted the offer and it was here that his career would begin.
The summer before his senior year of college, he went back to Mexico for a summer internship with Procter & Gamble, a multinational consumer goods company.
“I really liked the company and I really liked the people there.”
The internship had such an impact on Aguirre that he decide to change his major from computer science to marketing.
After the completion of college, Procter & Gamble offered him a full time position so, off to Mexico he went.
“One of the reasons I wanted to join P&G was because I wanted and thought it would be fun and interesting to live abroad, work in other countries including the U.S.”
Procter & Gamble had a program where they would send people to the U.S. and executives to many other places all over the world.
“I was interested in doing that so I joined and a few years later, 4 or 5 years later, the company sent me to Cincinnati and I was there for almost two years.”
After Cincinnati, the company sent him to Toronto, Canada for a few years. Then, he was sent back to Mexico for two years. Then, he was sent to Brazil for four years and back to Mexico for four years after that. During this time, he had been moving through the ranks from General Manager to Vice President for the company.
The company’s branch out of Cincinnati reached out to him offering the job of Head of the Global Business for food products. He accepted the job and was promoted to president of another global business.
As he made the move to Cincinnati for second time, he decided that is would “very likely” be a permanent relocation.
“We came to the U.S. and we did all the things most people do when they decide to come to the us to live permanently. We went through the green card process and then we ended up, my wife and my two boys, decided to become citizens and so we became citizens as well in 2009.”
The naturalization process can be taxing for a number of people but for the Aguirre family, it proved to go over rather smoothly.
“It’s become harder and harder over the times for a lot of reasons. For years, people have tried to find loopholes to try and become citizens without doing all the things you are supposed to do. In my case, it was relatively simple. It just took time. And the simplicity of it really was because I was with a very well-known large company,” he said.
“We had to do all of the paperwork, you had to do all of the qualifications. Some of those qualifications would be questions such as, ‘why are you doing the job you are doing here?’, ‘Why you are the only one qualified to do those jobs?’ So you go through that process and it’s not an easy process in that you have to go through, take [the] time, [and] you do have to qualify for whatever jobs you’d have. You have to prove that from a company’s perspective that you are the most qualified to do those jobs and so, you have to file out a lot of paperwork.”
Most importantly, Aguirre stated that you have to do a lot of waiting. At the time, he recollected that once he filed for the green card, he had to wait two or three years to receive it. Then, he had to obtain the green card for five years before he could file for citizenship.
“You have to really study the rules and study the constitution and really civil basic types of studies. But more than anything, it’s important to obviously be a productive citizen if you will and have certain qualifications and then you have to wait.”
Over the course of ten years, 2000-2010, he also took the time to go to Harvard Business School to further his education.
Amidst the naturalization process and continuing education, Aguirre was still hard at work. He would work at Procter and Gamble for more than 23 years before accepting a new job with Chiquita in 2004.
In 2010, Undercover Boss came to Chiquita and Aguirre participated in the episode as an undercover boss.
“It was interesting. It was a lot of work. It was pretty overwhelming but it was good. It was good for the company, good for the employees that participated so it was worth it but it was a lot of work. “
In 2012, after nine years, Aguirre, the CEO, ended his time with Chiquita.
It was during this time and shortly after, that he became a board member for companies like Levi Strauss, Coveris, Procter and Gamble Alumni Association, Coca Cola and created “The Triple Play Group LLC & At Bat Group LL.”
Yet, baseball is still a major part of the successful businessman’s life.
He remembers being in Mexico watching the Cincinnati Reds play in the World Series on TV. After moving to Cincinnati the first time, he was able to follow the Reds even more and became a big fan especially after attending a few games with his wife.
When he came back to Cincinnati permanently around 1999, his fandom rose even more. Around 2005-2006, the Reds changed ownership. A friend of his was very involved in this change and invited Aguirre to become an investor and so he did.
He got advice from his friends in the business and when he retired from Chiquita three years ago, he decided to start investing in different businesses. He began researching on what investments he wanted to do.
He became a part of the Twitter-sphere around 2009-2010 and it was here that he was introduced to some brokers who sell sports teams and had heard of his love for baseball. They asked of his interests and types of investments he’d be interested in and began to be exposed to investments in baseball.
Around that time, he spoke with the Reds saying, “my objective was to invest in a team as a minority team first to you know buy 20-30% of team to learn the business side, learn the operational side, and then go buy another piece of another team and then eventually buy one of my own.”
He got introduced to a person who owned several minor league teams and he became a sort of mentor and partner for Aguirre.
He agreed on Aguirre buying a piece of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
He called Aguirre about the Erie Seawolves being for sale adding that, “it would be a good investment and that it would be a good opportunity for me to go and look at it. So I did.”
Aguirre came to Erie, checked out the stadium, met people and bought the team in 2015.
“I expedited my plans by probably a year or two to buy a team by myself when I decided to buy Erie but I thought it was a good opportunity. The previous owners had really bought that team to relocate it and take it somewhere else. I decided to try to make it work there and that it would be good for the community and the people of Erie as well as a good business investment for me. So I bought the team there and decided not to invest in anymore yet or baseball teams and its exciting and fun and that happened about a year ago.”
Being an investor and an owner are both very different. Being involved in both can be a bonus but being sole owner of a team is much more.
“It boils down to having to be involved in all the decisions without having to check with anybody else. I think that’s fun and most importantly, you end up being all the positions you make. You end up being the key decision maker for the team, the key decision maker for what you are supposed to be doing. It’s really a lot of fun. It’s a very fun business. It’s very hands-on. You have to be there to know that. There are things that you need to make happen. It’s really been mostly a lot of fun and particularly in a sport that I really like. “
Today, he is the sole owner and CEO of the Erie Seawolves, the second largest owner and Vice-Chairman of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and owns a minority position in the Cincinnati Reds.
Additionally, he serves on the boards of Aetna Inc., a Fortune 50 company, Barry Callebaut, the largest chocolate and cocoa producer in the world, and Coveris, a global flexible packing company. He is also a member of the board of Duke University’s Fuqua’s School of Business and Coach K Center on Leadership and Eithics. He is on the Advisory Council of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in Charlotte, North Carolina as well where he currently resides.
He also uses his experience to speak publically and provide advisory services on leadership, strategy, communication, marketing, branding, governance, and social media.
From a young boy living in Mexico with a dream to play baseball and speak English in the United States to an extremely successful United States Citizen businessman, Fernando Aguirre has pushed through it all and achieved the greatness he set out for.
Aguirre faced many struggles but his advice for all is simple, “You have to work very hard for whatever you want to achieve. Nothing comes easy. There is no such thing as a free lunch as they say. And the wonderful thing about, particularly this country, is that you work hard, you set out your objectives and then you are pretty clear on what you want, the likelihood of achieving it is quite high.”
He added, “That’s one of the things that attracted me to come to this country because it really provides for a significant amount of opportunities and it provides for ways to succeed and ways to continue to learn and continue to do things and this place continues to be perhaps the safest country in the world. Every country has problems. Every city has issues. But clearly with everything that is going on around us, I believe that this country continues to be the safest country in the world. It has tremendous amount of advantages and I think it has, like many other countries, advantages, but for people who live here, people who are here and certainly for those that have come as immigrants, there is a lot of opportunity here.”
Coming from a person who has succeeded despite the struggle, trust the man when he says, “you have to work hard. If you aren’t willing to work hard and aren’t willing to sacrifice, good things typically don’t happen that easily.”
A man. A dream. A love for baseball. All from determination.
Be sure to follow him on Twitter @FdoAguirreCEO