An eighth-grade school dropout and a laborer by trade, John Hernandez kept pushing to do more, even when he didn’t see a path forward.

At 9 years old, he took on his first job, chopping cotton in the fields of North Texas with his family. 

“I actually got paid, which was kind of cool for a 9-year-old,” Hernandez, now 52, said. “Even to this day, I have expensive tastes. So my mother would always say, ‘Well, look, if you want new school clothes, you’ve got to work.’”

Hernandez was born in Vernon, Texas, and is the child of Mexican migrants who met while working in the cotton fields. For him, working was a no-brainer and the start of his entrepreneurial journey. 

Since his early days working out in the fields, Hernandez has moved up the corporate ladder, exchanging his laborer’s clothes for a suit and tie. He even opened several of his own businesses.

The secret to his success? Building relationships.

Hernandez’s parents divorced when he was 10. At 14, he decided to go live with his father and work for his business in San Antonio. When his father was incarcerated for a year, Hernandez found himself homeless and couch-surfing at the age of 15.

He was eventually taken in by the Galindo family, who were entrepreneurs — the father worked in construction and the mother had a Mexican restaurant. 

“I was basically a construction laborer/bricklayer apprentice. That’s what I did, and that’s kind of how I paid for my room and board,” Hernandez said. 

At 17, Hernandez moved back to his family in Vernon and started working odd jobs.

Hernandez was offered a job at Vetrotex Certainteed, a fiberglass company in Wichita Falls, Texas. There, his first roadblock came up — he needed a GED or a high school diploma. 

That posed an issue for Hernandez, who had dropped out of eighth grade to work. 

“Not knowing what I was walking into, I took the GED and got the job, which was more money than I’ve ever made in labor jobs,” he said. 

After working at the company for a year, Hernandez was given the opportunity to move up in the company, on one condition: He had to get a bachelor’s degree. 

For five years, Hernandez studied business at Midwestern State University during the day and worked full-time night shifts at the fiberglass company. 

He graduated at the age of 29. 

During his last year of undergraduate, Hernandez interned at Tecnologico de Monterrey in Chihuahua, Mexico, for a year at the suggestion of one of his professors. Once he came back, he got his first office job at Vetrotex as a buyer. 

“It was my first office job where I actually didn’t get dirty, I didn’t have fiberglass all over me,” he said. “It was just slacks and a shirt, but you would have thought I was wearing a tux.”

Shortly after, Hernandez transferred to Dallas and entered Vetrotex’s corporate world. But again, he found himself at a crossroads. If he wanted to get the job, he had to get a master’s degree. 

Hernandez ended up attending Southern Methodist University, where he earned his master’s in business administration. 

“There’s hundreds and hundreds of options of careers that you can take. And so that really opened my eyes, especially when I got to SMU,” he said. “I definitely have the work experience. Now I have the education to back me up. I’m not even supposed to be here. I’m supposed to be some dropout statistic.”

After SMU, Hernandez worked for Bank of America in 2003 as a banker for professionals and executives, followed by a two-year stint at J.P Morgan in 2006.

While making his way in the banking industry, Hernandez also began working on his own business — a little classic car repair and restoration shop. 

In 2008, he took a leap of faith and left the corporate world to run his shop. 

“I come from a family of entrepreneurs, but to that point, I’ve never run my own business. I’m always working for someone. Yes, some were entrepreneurs. So I got a taste of how difficult it can be,” Hernandez said. 

More than a decade later, he hasn’t looked back.

Hernandez eventually passed along that car shop in 2015 to a father and his sons who had worked for him since day one as he searched for his next endeavor. He was asked in 2015 to serve as the president of the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

During his time as president, Hernandez rebranded the chamber and worked to connect leaders and business owners with the community. He called it a facelift. 

“As the Hispanic chamber president, I always strived to change the way some people viewed the Hispanic community,” he said. “Yes, we’re hard-working and family oriented, but we’re also educated, professional, and hold prominent roles in the community.”

The mindset was wherever business was happening in Fort Worth, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce needed to be there. 

After four years with the chamber, Hernandez stepped down as president in 2019 to focus on his family’s construction business, which was taking off, especially in the federal space. He was succeeded at the chamber by Anette Landeros

Joseph DeLeon, president of the Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital, befriended Hernandez while both of them were serving on the Hispanic chamber’s board of directors in the early 2000s. 

DeLeon described Hernandez as a sharp and professional person who has come a long way in his career from his humble beginnings. Today, Hernandez passes on that knowledge, he said. 

“John used to be the one receiving the encouragement,” DeLeon said. “And now, John is passing that on to everyone else that he comes into contact with, and I think a lot of it has to do with his work and recognizing opportunities and then matching them to talent. It’s been really good to see John grow in that capacity.”

As COVID-19 set back projects around the world, Hernandez was introduced to BoardBuild. It’s a nonprofit organization that connects local leaders to nonprofit boards and teaches how to serve on a board. After a short time on its board of directors, he joined full time as director of strategy. 

“We help people build their own personal brand. If you think about it, when you start serving in the community and volunteering, whether you serve on a board or committee, you’re truly giving back to the community. That’s where your true passions come out, regardless of where you work,” Hernandez said. 

(Courtesy John Hernandez)

Pam Cannell, president and CEO of BoardBuild, described Hernandez’s ability to connect people as his superpower. She noted that his skills are complementary to the overall goals BoardBuild has. 

“John is so well plugged into this community and respected. He brings humility to every relationship and is curious. He is so mission-driven,” Cannell said. “That’s why I feel so fortunate to have him in this startup position. We just need people who have a lot of grit, perseverance, and believe in the mission.”

Through his position at BoardBuild, Hernandez, who is also a managing partner with residential construction company Lorica, is hoping to show people the opportunities that come with serving on boards. After all, some of his best opportunities came from serving on boards, he said. 

“I’ve been serving on boards for almost 20 years, and some of my best friends, mentors, opportunities came up out of people that I’ve met on a board, not people that I worked with, necessarily,” he said. 

Over the years, Hernandez has become prouder of his story and now encourages the younger generation to not limit themselves. That includes his 15-year-old son, who is trying to decide on a career. 

“There are things that you just haven’t been exposed to yet,” he said. “Once you go to college, and you go out in the world, and you’re like, ‘I can do that,’ you’re going to change your mind 1,000 times. So quit trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up and just enjoy the ride.”

JOHN HERNANDEZ BIO

Birthplace: Vernon, Texas

Moved to Fort Worth: 2005

Family: Spouse: Monica Vasquez, Sons: Isaac and John John 

Education: 

Southern Methodist University, MBA finance and strategy; Midwestern State University, bachelor’s in International Business; GED.

Work experience: 

Currently: Director of Strategy, BoardBuild

Managing Partner, Lorica – residential construction 

Consulting: Executive coach and market Development, various clients

Construction: COO, E9 Construction

Nonprofit: President/ CEO, Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Classic car restoration: Car designer/ owner, Headliner Customs Interiors

Wealth management: Client adviser, Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase

Manufacturing: Buyer, Vetrotex Certainteed

Volunteer experience: 

He has served several area boards and community committees, including Community in Schools of Greater Tarrant County, Tough Stars Give Back, Cancer Care Services, BoardBuild, Texans Can Academies, Downtown FW Inc, Fort Worth CVB, Fort Worth Sister Cities, FW Minority Business Advisory committee, Honorary Commander at NASJRB, Kay Granger Hispanic Advisory Committee, Blue Zones Advisory Committee and Big Brother Big Sister Event Committees, along with many other organizations.

First job: At age 9, chopping cotton in fields of North Texas.

Advice for someone learning to be a leader: 

“Seek out mentors that challenge you. The relationships, experiences and perspectives that are gained will be priceless.”

Best advice ever received: On how to live your life —Have a story to tell.”

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at sandra.sadek@fortworthreport.org or follow her on Twitter at @ssadek19

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Avatar photo

Sandra Sadek

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. Originally from Houston, she graduated from Texas State University where she studied journalism and international...