José Hernandez: A global leader in ethics

As chief executive officer of Ortus Strategies, José Hernandez helps organizations rebuild after running into difficulties with the law. Find out how his work aligns with the Canadian Ideal of Good Business.

José Hernandez was in high school when an accountant came to his school to talk about the accounting profession and the values that define it. “It was fascinating," he recalls. "He told us about the integrity and professionalism that accountants need to have, and how the profession could open doors both in Canada and internationally. I ended up seeing the designation as an entryway, a toolkit, to solve many problems around the world.”

That early presentation set Hernandez on a course that would eventually carry the Salvadoran-born CPA to more than 40 countries, using those very values of integrity and professionalism to help organizations under investigation by regulators and prosecutors.

From Canada to the U.S. and Europe

After graduating from the University of Waterloo, Hernandez worked for several years with PwC Canada. “I did a tour of duty in Cuba, then went to the United States, where I took part in the inaugural class of a leadership development program,” he says. “Then, in 2001, I transferred to the Netherlands and became a PwC partner after that. I also earned a PhD in fraud from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.”

In 2003, Hernandez started working on major cases of fraud and corruption around the world. “There was a major fraud case in the Netherlands, then, two years later, we handled cases of corruption for global companies headquartered in Germany. So, I spent essentially six days a week outside of my home for several years,” he says.

In 2008, Hernandez retired from PwC and co-founded a consulting firm, FGI Europe AG, with former FBI director, Louie Freeh. FGI brought together the expertise of former judges, prosecutors, lawyers, analysts and accounting professionals. He subsequently launched Ortus Strategies in 2016. “We act as a partner to blue-chip global organizations that either are in a crisis or that want to make sure they deliver on their commitments,” he says. “We help them respond to a crisis but also to rebuild and transform their organizations.”

Hernandez explains that crises don’t just develop out of the blue. “The ‘perfect storm’ idea is a myth, because the root causes were probably known. There were likely a number of issues building over the years that ultimately erupted into a scandal.”

Leadership is key

According to Hernandez, transforming an organization has everything to do with leadership. “Leadership is not just about thinking the right things, but taking tough decisions,” he says. “Often, I see business leaders taking an incremental approach to problems. We can always rationalize ourselves away from a difficult decision. But there are consequences for not taking prompt action and usually problems don’t go away.”

In addition to leadership, an organization needs a compass. “Integrity is that compass,” says Hernandez. “It points you to that magnetic north. And our goal is to empower leaders, so that they steer the ship toward where this magnetic north is heading.”

For Hernandez, bringing integrity into the core of an organization – into its decision-making processes – is what the Canadian Ideal of Good Business is all about. And, accountants have an important role to play. “When it comes to standing behind the Canadian ideal, we are the guardians of business. We are important voices that can say, ‘Look, we shouldn’t be doing this because here are the consequences.’ We have the right code of ethics to do that. We have the right DNA to do that. It’s part of our mandate to the markets and society to help organizations live up to that ideal.”

Watch the video to learn more about how José Hernandez is leveraging the Canadian Ideal of Good Business in the global community.