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The Sunshine Economy: Magic And Mike (Fernandez)

Health care billionaire Mike Fernandez and Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Johnson became a strategic partner with the Fernandez-owned health insurance firm Simply Healthcare.
Mike Fernandez
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Health care billionaire Mike Fernandez and Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Johnson became a strategic partner with the Fernandez-owned health insurance firm Simply Healthcare.
Credit Mike Fernandez / Courtesy
The Florida Channel
Health care billionaire Mike Fernandez and Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Johnson became a strategic partner with the Fernandez-owned health insurance firm Simply Healthcare.


By the looks of this photograph, one would think Mike Fernandez andEarvin"Magic" Johnson have known each other for years. When they greeted each other before their interview on the Sunshine Economy, they embraced in a bear hug, the 6-foot-9-inch former NBA point guard more than a head taller than the billionaire health care entrepreneur. Fernandez even gave Johnson a kiss on the cheek. This was not a boardroom greeting, but the two have known each other only since 2012.

Johnson and Fernandez's Simply Healthcare insurance firm, based in Coral Gables, struck a deal that year. Johnson would work to bring Simply Healthcare's HMO insurance plans, including a plan for HIV/AIDS, to "underserved urban communities."

Johnson has been living with HIV since 1991. He would become part owner of the health insurance business and sit on its board of directors. But to hear Fernandez tell it, he didn't know who Magic was when it was suggested they meet. Listen:

They know each other now, forging a fast relationship. Their business strategies have as much in common as their physical characteristics are different -- they have focused on bringing their businesses to their communities.  

For Fernandez, that has meant bringing health care to the Hispanic consumer.  For Johnson, it's been movie theaters, chain restaurants, temporary staffing, food catering, construction and a host of other enterprises to the black community. In 2000, Johnson struck a first-of-its-kind relationship with Starbucks, bringing the coffee shop to urban neighborhoods. But the strategy wasn't without having Starbucks change its menu:

The Cuba-born billionaire and the basketball star turned business mogul from Michigan don't shrink from talking about the role race has played in their careers. It was been central to their successes. 

Hear more here:

The Florida Channel

They spoke with the Sunshine Economy while promoting Fernandez's new book, "Humbled by the Journey: Life Lessons for My Family... and Yours." 

In the past year, Fernandez and the private equity firm he runs, MBF Healthcare Partners, have sold three of its portfolio companies. The biggest deal, Anthem's estimated $1 billion buyout of Simply Healthcare, still has to be approved by regulators. Vitamin Shoppes bought Nutri-Force for a reported $85 million. And CVS purchased Navarro Discount Pharmacy.

Fernandez keeps a relatively low profile but is active in philanthropy. His family's philanthropic foundation has donated millions of dollars to South Florida causes, primarily children's healthcare. However, he said the foundation's focus will shift in 2015 to exclusively education:  

"We will reshuffle our family foundation in the next 90 days. We have given $100-plus million over the last 20 years to a variety of causes, most of them focused on children. But I don't think we've made a difference in any one of them in a significant way. So we're going to re-channel that to families whose children are the first ones to go to college." 

Fernandez said the education giving to first-generation college students won't pay 100 percent of a student's tuition, it won't be exclusive to Hispanic students and it won't be limited to South Florida colleges and universities.  He noted the foundation will fulfill its previous financial commitments.

Fernandez also is active in Republican politics. He was a supporter of Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, donating and raising millions of dollars.  He's also been a supporter of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. With both Romney and Bush considering a 2016 White House run but neither of yet to make it official, Fernandez already has chosen sides.

As for Johnson, he's one of the newest owners of a Major League Soccer franchise, but not in Miami. Though he did reach out to David Beckham after Beckham announced his franchise in South Florida.  While Beckham's group continues looking for a suitable location for a soccer stadium here, Johnson is part of an investor group behind the second MLS team in Los Angeles.

And regarding that other professional sports interest of Johnson's? He marks up the struggles of the Miami Heat so far this season to injuries. Still, he contends the Heat will be the team to beat in the playoffs.

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In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.