Cut from the Same Cloth: Father/Son Alumni Pursue Public Service in Mexico

January 4, 2011
by Matt Kohut

In Spanish, some fathers and sons can be described as de la misma tela, or "cut from the same cloth." This is clearly the case with Armando Lopez-Fernandez MPA 1978 and Armando Lopez-Cardenas MPA 2007.

Armando Lopez-Fernandez came to the Kennedy School in 1977 from Mexico City to learn more about poverty alleviation. "I learned that poverty was a common denominator in many countries, but some countries were successful of getting out of it and others were not," he said. "This exchange of ideas and awareness that we are different but have very common problems was very enriching."

Lopez-Fernandez returned to Mexico City, where he pursued economic development through a number of avenues. He worked directly with coffee growers and helped to organize garment workers. He also became involved in politics. Two decades later, when Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas won the first-ever direct election as Head of Government of the Federal District -- a position analogous to mayor of Mexico City -- Lopez-Fernandez became his chief of staff. When Cárdenas resigned to run for president of Mexico, his successor appointed Lopez-Fernandez Secretary of Finance, a position he held until the next election. Under the subsequent administration, Lopez-Fernandez went on to serve as CEO of the Attorney General's Office.

His older son, Armando Lopez-Cardenas, has fond memories of attending the Martin Luther King School and celebrating his sixth birthday at Peabody Terrace when his father was a Mason Fellow in the late 1970s. "I remember the fall, the leaves changing, the snow," he said. Over time, he also quietly cultivated an ambition to return to Cambridge as a Mason Fellow.

He studied economics as an undergraduate, followed by graduate work in business administration and organizational management, and then followed his father's footsteps into government service in Mexico City. He worked in the ministries of Finance, State, and Transportation before applying for the yearlong mid-career program. He also attended the Kennedy School's executive education program "Leaders in Development," which his father had done in 1996. When he asked for advice about applying to the Kennedy School, his father told him, "You need to be prepared and you need to study very hard. You will be in competition with people from around the world who want to go there." Upon his acceptance, Lopez-Cardenas learned that he was the first second-generation Mason Fellow.

After returning to government service in Mexico City, he landed a quick succession of jobs in the Ministry of Finance, including Undersecretary of Financial Planing and Undersecretary of Budget. In the summer of 2010, the Head of Government offered him his father's old position as Secretary of Finance.

"For me it's an honor and a great challenge to be appointed Secretary of Finance in this important and huge city," said Lopez-Cardenas, noting that Mexico City has 8.9 million residents but provides services on a daily basis to roughly 4 million more from nearby communities. He is working to incorporate human rights and gender equity concepts in the budget process, and to develop public-private partnerships in the absence of adequate public resources. "Now I have the opportunity to apply many things I learned from my classmates and professors. The techniques and frameworks that you learn at the Kennedy School are very useful for issues like dealing with stakeholders and trying to simplify complex problems."

The path shared by father and son is invaluable to Lopez-Cardenas in his current position. "Of course I see him as a mentor. I'm a very lucky guy," he said.

His father is quick to point out that his son has worked hard to get where he is. "As his proud father, I know my son has merits of his own, but I also know he has been preparing for public service for many years," Lopez-Fernandez said.

The family connection to Harvard remains strong. After graduating, Lopez-Fernandez became active in the Harvard Club of Mexico City, and he organized the local Kennedy School alumni chapter. In 2002 he was elected to the Kennedy School Alumni Association, and went on to serve as a Kennedy School representative to the Harvard Alumni Association from 2007-10. His enthusiasm for the school is as strong as it was thirty years ago. "The school has grown and kept up with modern times in a way that whoever goes there becomes trained toward understanding what's going on in the world," he said.

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Photograph of Armando Lopez-Cardenas MPA 2007

Armando Lopez-Cardenas MPA 2007, current Secretary of Finance, Mexico City.

"Now I have the opportunity to apply many things I learned from my classmates and professors. The techniques and frameworks that you learn at the Kennedy School are very useful for issues like dealing with stakeholders and trying to simplify complex problems."

-- Armando Lopez-Cardenas MPA 2007, current Secretary of Finance, Mexico City

Photograph of Armando Lopez-Fernandez MPA 1978
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