Raul Fernandez is taking over from the late Joseph E. Robert Jr. as chairman of the Fight for Children charity, best known for its annual Fight Night fundraiser at the Washington Hilton (mark your calendar: Nov. 1 this year).
The 18-member Fight for Children board unanimously approved Fernandez as chairman last week.
It makes sense.
The vice chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment has been hosting a ringside table — current cost: $28,000 — at Fight Night for a decade. Fernandez was a close friend of Robert and has the same passion for education that Robert had.
“I am at a point in my life when I wanted to take up another mission,” said Fernandez, 45, who will continue working with another nonprofit, Venture Philanthropy Partners. “With Joe’s untimely loss, I felt there was a ton of momentum that needed to be continued. I worked closely with him on a lot of these issues. I have been big on school vouchers, opportunity scholarships and education reform.”
The D.C. area Fight for Children has raised $100 million over the past 22 years, with $36 million coming from Fight Night and the rest from other fundraisers such as School Night, held each spring. About half of Fight for Children’s money goes to health and education programs for low-income children, and the charity uses the rest to run its programs.
But the glittery Fight Night has always garnered the attention.
Over the years, Fernandez has leveraged his political, sports and business connections to make his table one of the liveliest, and a must-stop for VIPs working the crowd. NBA star Michael Jordan, rapper M.C. Hammer, quarterback Dan Marino, the late Jack Kemp, who was a mentor of Fernandez, and businessman Kevin Plank, the founder of Under Armour, have all had a seat at the Fernandez table.
Fernandez and Robert shared a passion for St. John’s College High School in Northwest Washington, which they both attended. St. John’s has produced dozens of successful area businessmen, including former AOL mogul Jim Kimsey and Plank.
Other high-profile Washingtonians who purchase tables include Kimsey, Chuck Kuhn of JK Moving Services (a Fight for Children board member), Danaher co-founder Mitchell Rales, Michael Saylor of MicroStrategy, and Fight for Children board member (and Monumental Sports partner) Fred Schaufeld.
Fernandez said this year’s Fight Night will be a celebration of Robert, who died last December at age 59 of brain cancer. Robert — who hosted fights in his backyard as a kid — had turned the politically incorrect Fight Night, with a racy dance by Redskins cheerleaders and an army of table hostesses in slinky dresses, into a larger-than-life charity event that resembled a sports smoker. Its male-only clientele smoke cigars, swig cocktails and watch a couple of exhibition boxing matches. Robert brought in former boxing greats each year to help host the event.
Robert was Fight For Children’s founding chairman from 1990 until his death, and gave $12 million of his own money to the cause over that period. He also left the organization $5 million in his will. One party has already pledged $1 million in his name. Last year’s Fight Night raised $2.1 million.
Fernandez is already mining his extensive phone list for big donations.
“Part of what we are doing along the way is making sure the organization doesn’t have any short-term needs,” Fernandez said. “Everyone agrees the focus and passion on education and health are going to be the same. We are going to celebrate Joe and create a foundation for the future.”
We checked in with entrepreneur Sean Glass after hearing he was starting a new business-to-business start-up called EmployInsight, which helps employers evaluate their workers. (He recently wrapped up a $1 million round of funding).
Glass, 32, is the largest investor in the start-up and has been around the entrepreneurial field for a decade. His first company, Higher One, which automated financial tasks for colleges and universities, went public in 2010 and has a market capitalization of $865 million.
What is the thinking behind EmployInsight?
The market we are after is the human resources technology market with $80 billion spent annually worldwide. We think that number expands to well north of $100 billion if you include the business productivity market. With our product, we have a first-mover advantage.
What trends out there are creating business opportunities?
There’s a lot of opportunities to build Web-based software that lets organizations use unique data sets, whether it improves sales or, in our case, improves hiring and talent management.