Unlike the “brain drain” hitting some cities, Atlanta luckily has been experiencing the opposite — call it a “brain gain.” You can see the term in action when it comes to today’s FACE, Lauren Fernandez. This self-starting entrepreneur moved to Atlanta years ago to earn both her juris doctorate and MBA from Emory University. After graduating, she planted roots in our fair city, eventually becoming a hugely successful attorney and brand developer. She helped found Origin Development Group as well as The Fernandez Company, helping to develop, support, strengthen and expand brands. Lauren’s obvious drive goes way past her professional passions — she’s an outspoken advocate in the fight against hunger and other worthy causes as well as a fun-loving partner and mom (to human and fur babies alike). We’re very lucky to have Lauren Fernandez as our newest FACE of Atlanta, so let’s get to know her!
You are president of Origin Development Group and run consulting group and law firm The Fernandez Company. How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I put the important things first: my family, my friends and then my business. I am surrounded by exceptional individuals — friends, family and my work family — who are patient and help me get it all done! The truth is that it’s never a perfect balance, and I have come to accept that that is okay. Some weeks I work too much, and the laundry only gets done by my handsome partner in crime. Other days, things are quiet, and I get to make a real meal for my family. I don’t ever compare myself to others and try to be kind to myself while juggling all the stuff of life.
Besides the tasty Georgia brands you’ve worked with, like Chicken Salad Chick, where are some of your favorite places in Atlanta to dig in and pig out?
We love to eat out and support locally owned restaurants and chefs. I am always on the lookout for our next investment and consider myself very lucky that I get to eat out a lot for research and development! I look for fresh food and great service. When at home in Sandy Springs, we love Osteria Mattone on Canton Street and are also huge fans of G.C. Barbecue and The Real Fix Pizzeria. When at my offices in Buckhead, I love South City Kitchen and Buttermilk Kitchen. Biscuits are my vice.
You are active with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Atlanta Community Food Bank, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and other worthy organizations. Why add philanthropic work into your already busy schedule?
My parents raised us to believe that your gifts and talents should always be used to serve others. Giving back recharges me, so it’s not a surprise that these charities are connected to my passions in life. I believe eradicating hunger is an important mission. Ever since my childhood working in food banks with my grandmother, I understood very early on that many people are food insecure. My work as a volunteer and an advisory board member at the Atlanta Community Food Bank allows me to be an advocate for this cause throughout the industry and give back to the community at large.
Our family lost my mother to a rare lymphoma when she was only 52. As research continues to rapidly progress, there is an increasingly urgent need to fund cutting-edge research in the developing area of antivirals and other targeted therapies with LLS. During my fundraising experiences, I learned that many children with similar lymphomas often do not have access to experimental protocols, as they are not designed for smaller patients. We decided to do something about that: Our restaurants now support fundraising for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Pediatric Cancer Research. We raised over $45,000 last winter, specifically dedicated to pediatric child cancer research and protocols. This summer we’re hoping to exceed our goal of $25,000!
What’s the most misunderstood element of launching a brand, like Chicken Salad Chick?
Often, restaurateurs forget that brand equity is built over time and that efforts towards that goal must be consistent day after day. Brands are built by consistent product quality, exceptional service and engaged ownership — there is no quick fix for creating authentic excitement and energy behind your company. As invested participants in each of our store locations, we spend months in communities before opening a restaurant, developing lasting relationships and sampling our product. This was our approach with our newest Chicken Salad Chick location in Buckhead, and we’re thankful for the warm welcome we’ve already received from the surrounding neighborhoods and businesses.
You attended Emory University as a student and then taught as an adjunct professor. What’s your favorite Emory memory? How has campus changed over the years?
I loved my time at Emory, and I’m incredibly grateful for the foundation they helped me build for my career. I still enjoy going back to help, whether for speaking engagements, seminars or for alumni events. The chance to teach trademark law last year was a total bucket-list moment! Some of my favorite moments are from Goizueta Business School, studying in the courtyard and enjoying after-hours beers on the patio with my classmates. I am a huge fan of all things architecture, so it was the first thing I noticed when on campus — it’s a beautiful blend of timeless and new. The setting is itself extraordinary: tulips everywhere in the spring, lots of green space and trees and especially the Lullwater Preserve.
Where’s the best place in Atlanta to take your Labrador, Dulce, for a day of fun and pampering?
Dulce loves water! Since we live very close to the Chattahoochee River, she takes a swim from time to time and chases geese and ducks. Wet-dog smell is the worst – so we are also big fans of That Dirty Dog in Roswell. They’ll let you wash your own pup or do it for you. We absolutely love Spot for Dogs off the Beltline in Midtown. It’s a woman-owned, local business, and they were so good to both me and Dulce, especially when I had to travel for work! She also loves Piedmont Park’s dog parks.
You’re a leader in business and the Atlanta community. What traits make a good leader? Why is it so important to develop these skills in girls and young women?
In my mind, good leadership comes from solid strategy, clearly articulated vision, personal passion and real action. You can’t expect anyone to follow you if you don’t know what you’re talking about, communicate clearly and walk the walk. Always bring your best self: My team doesn’t often see me without my best energy. On the days I can’t bring that, I humbly admit it. Why not show that you’re human? Just be authentic.
I think we all acknowledge the lack of women in leadership, executive roles and in the boardroom, but we forget to be a part of the solution. Influencing change through empowering women is so important. I love encouraging leadership in young girls as well as in my own peer group. We create opportunities daily and the results are clear — I am so proud that our management team is over 90% female and over 43% diverse. I am also a member of OnBoard, a wonderful local organization dedicated to diversity in the boardroom, specifically among women and minorities.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Know thyself, and to thine own self be true.” My father has said this to me since I was a child. It’s been a guideline for me years before I even really understood the significance. It takes a lot of courage to blaze your own path in life, to quiet your own fears and the naysayers. I am equally grateful for my gifts and talents as I am aware of my limits and deficiencies. I surround myself with people who push me to improve, which raises the level of our whole team. Admitting your weaknesses makes you a better leader: it creates space for those on your team to fill in, contribute meaningfully and, ultimately, shine.
What three things can you not live without, excluding family, friends and faith?
Amazon Prime, lists (anyone who knows me will tell you I am a compulsive list maker) and strong Cuban coffee (it’s my one indulgence every morning and always reminds me of my family and heritage).
A big thank you to Lauren Fernandez for sharing her story and being an inspiration to up-and-coming business leaders. And as always, we couldn’t have this piece without Catrina Maxwell of CatMax Photography, and her wonderful images.
Read about more inspiring women in Atlanta. Check out our FACES archives — click here.