Cesar Hernandez at work on behalf of clients attending the Synapse Summit 2020 in Tampa. Courtesy of Omni Public
Cesar Hernandez, Founder + Managing Director, Omni Public, Tampa Courtesy of Omni Public
Cesar Hernandez's roots extend from Tampa to Guatemala by way of Brooklyn. Courtesy of Omni Public
It’s a long way between the Mayan highlands of Guatemala and the streets of Brooklyn, but Cesar Hernandez finds distinct similarities in the two cultures.
Descended from a line of Mayan warriors, politicians, and activists, Hernandez grew up learning the stories of secret tribal wars fought by Guatemala’s indigenous people, his people, against the government. The conflicts were so brutal that his grandfather was given up to a Catholic orphanage so that he might live. His grandmother, one of 15 siblings, was one of only five who survived.
That grandmother, Christina Garcia, became a political activist. Eventually, her party won seats in the Congress, then her comrades and colleagues began disappearing.
Immigrating to the United States with her daughter, Alma, she settled in Brooklyn, NY, where she raised her daughter and worked for the American Dream. When Alma fell in love, she found her future husband had come from the same neighborhood in Guatemala.
Hernandez says that when he took a 23andMe DNA test, it showed he was 52% Mayan. “We are from the dominant K’iche tribe. We are resilient people.”
Resiliency was a valuable survival skill growing up on the streets of Brooklyn, where kids had to learn early on which gang controlled what territory. Hernandez never joined a gang but found a way to walk the fine line of being respected by them, even sometimes being able to broker peace when fights broke out.
Hernandez says he was offered a good public education, learned other languages, made friends with people of different backgrounds, and became captain of the high school football team. But his studies were not a priority until he was challenged by a Calculus teacher to get an “A,” which he did. Using a line from the movie On the Waterfront, the teacher told Hernandez, “You could have been a contender.”
Leading on the field and off
Wanting to play Division 1 football brought Cesar Hernandez to USF. But the words of the teacher kept echoing. He left football, took on three majors, and became Student Body President.
Combining the street cred developed during his days in Brooklyn with the leadership skills learned at USF, Hernandez became a community organizer for the University Area Community Development Corporation. Serving as a liaison between the nonprofit and law enforcement, he found himself involved in crime intervention. “I recognized those kids from my time in Brooklyn. My heart went out to them.”
Hernandez’s efforts on behalf of the UACDC brought him to the attention of local politicians. His interest in government work grew. It wasn’t long before he was a legislative aide to then-Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione. Hernandez says that job “defined my career. ... It gave me the understanding and opportunity to shape policy while interacting with city, county, state, and federal representatives.”
Moving from legislative aid to campaign aid was a natural step. Hernandez became active in campaigns handling communications for races from school boards to Presidential elections. ”I loved seeing people go from private citizens to public officials.”
The next move on the career chess board made Hernandez the in-house Director of Government Relations for HART, the Hillsborough Regional Transit Authority. During his tenure, the organization embarked on some of its most innovative projects, including launching HyperLINK with Tesla, development of the One Bus Away app, and advocating for rideshares to be legal in Hillsborough County. Hernandez says HART became a leader in tech-forward private/public partnerships.
Hernandez saw the future was in transportation, mobility, and burgeoning tech innovations. Thus Omni Public was born. According to the company’s website, Omni Public is a progressive global strategy, public affairs, and public relations firm that specializes in helping companies introduce and deploy new technologies, concepts, and ideas into the marketplace and engage with government, media, and industry.
Focusing on growth, cultivating new clients
For someone who had succeeded at almost everything he tried, Hernandez admits the early days at the helm of Omni Public were rough. “There was a real learning curve. … learning to be a good businessperson … finding out the difference between accounts payable and accounts receivable.”
Today at 33, Cesar Hernandez focuses on Omni Public’s growth curve, including opening virtual offices in New York and Los Angeles and representing clients such as BIRD, Synapse, Tampa Bay Wave, and Immertec. Hernandez says he loves representing non-traditional companies, telling their stories, and helping them grow. “I’m proud to play a part in their journeys.”
Immertec CEO Erik Maltais says two years ago he was looking for PR help to tell his company’s story and was recommended to Omni Public by a friend. Immertec offers a new, highly innovative approach to surgical training through technology that transports surgeons into the surgical suite with real-time virtual surgery training.
Maltais says, “Cesar has helped to tell the world we’re extraordinary. He fine-tuned our narrative, shared our vision, and created conversations with investors and the local community. … Cesar is a partner; we’re lucky to have him.’’
Hernandez feels lucky, too. “Tampa is home,” he says. “I would not be as successful if I had tried in any other place. Here’s a kid from Brooklyn, who drove 16 hours to a university where he didn’t know anyone and now I’m working with some of the most innovative companies in the world. Tampa is sacred ground to me.”
Enjoy this story? Sign up
for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.
Pamela Varkony’s non-fiction topics range from politics to economic development to women's empowerment. A feature writer and former columnist for Tribune Publishing, Pamela's work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, and in PBS and NPR on-air commentaries. Her poetry has been published in the New York Times. Recognized by the Pennsylvania Women's Press Association with an "Excellence in Journalism" award, Pamela often uses her writing to advocate for women's rights and empowerment both at home and abroad. She has twice traveled to Afghanistan on fact-finding missions. Pamela was named the 2017 Pearl S. Buck International Woman of Influence for her humanitarian work. Born and raised in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Pamela often weaves the lessons learned on those backcountry roads throughout her stories.