MINNEAPOLIS—Cargill communications chief Mike Fernandez will receive a SABRE Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement at the 2014 SABRE Awards Americas awards dinner in New York.

Before joining Cargill, where he currently serves as corporate vice president, corporate affairs, Mike Fernandez previously held senior corporate communications positions at companies in a wide variety of industries, from insurance (State Farm Mutual) to food (ConAgra) to telecommunication (US West). In each case, he was brought on board to help the company deal with specific threats, ranging from legal and regulatory challenges to natural disasters.

At Cargill, the challenge was less obvious, but no less critical. As a privately held company, Cargill had not always been subject to the same level of scrutiny as its publicly-traded peers. But with 142,000 employees in 67 countries, and a major role in the world’s food supply, it was clear that the company needed to embrace increased transparency rather than resisting it.

Says Cargill executive chairman Greg Page, “We knew that in a world where you can hide nothing, you better have nothing to hide and Mike has provided great leadership and guidance on how we can, and must be more transparent with all the stakeholders that are important to us.  We needed to be more comfortable engaging around issues that affect us, organizations that may differ with us and through channels that we have traditionally avoided.”

Having joined the company in 2010, Fernandez has taken leadership of Cargill’s worldwide corporate affairs activities, including government relations, media relations, internal communications, brand, marketing services, corporate responsibility, and knowledge management as well as representing Cargill’s business and corporate policy interests. 

He has championed a major effort to unite Cargill under a single brand voice and led efforts to bring that brand to life. In particular, he has overseen the building of a strategic internal communications capability, aligning messaging from the leadership team, developing and articulating a consistent corporate narrative, and empowering employees to communicate Cargill’s mission and values in their own interactions.

After earning bachelor’s degree in government and a master’s in accounting from Georgetown University, Fernandez went from being a kid who asked a lot of questions to a college-aged congressional press secretary—for then-Senator Ernest Hollings—providing answers to the DC press corps.

His first corporate job was at Eastman Kodak, and he later held positions of increasing responsibility at US West, Cigna, ConAgra and State Farm, where he was vice president of public affairs. He serves on the boards of the Institute for Public Relations (where he is a former co-chair) and the Arthur W. Page Society.