PHOTO COURTESY OF THE HERJAVEC GROUP

Nearly fifty years ago, a political prisoner in the Socialist Republic of Croatia escaped from jail and settled in Halifax, Canada with his wife and 8-year old son. With nothing but a single suitcase and minimal English proficiency, the poor family found it difficult to integrate into society. To help pay the bills, the young boy soon began delivering newspapers and working as a waiter. By the age of 10, he was reading the property lease for his parents and by 13, he was helping them get a mortgage. 

That boy was Robert Herjavec,  a man who is now worth over $100 million dollars. He is an internationally recognized television personality, best-selling author, and successful businessman. He founded BRAK Systems, a technology company, and sold it for $30.2 million  in 2000. He has appeared on Dragon’s Den, Shark Tank, and Dancing with the Stars. Herjavec is the founder of The Herjavec Group and a U of T alumnus. 

As the poorest boy in his class from a foreign country, Herjavec was teased for his differences after his family settled in Canada. He credits the challenges and injustices he faced with instilling in him a strong desire to improve his condition.

“My mother was once taken advantage of by a salesperson into buying an expensive and unnecessary vacuum cleaner… I was angry and never wanted to see my family hurt again because we didn’t understand or were too poor. I wanted to change that situation.”

In some ways, Herjavec explains, that experience opened his eyes to the world of sales and marketing. 

“I was amazed at the power of persuasion and wanted to know more about sales [and] the level of influence this man had exerted to convince my mom she needed this vacuum. I was more mad than anything, but it was the first time I really realized that an individual has that kind of power to persuade.”

Herjavec’s path to technology companies was unconventional. He pursued a degree in English Literature and Political Science at U of T and went on to work for a TV station. After briefly working in the film industry, Herjavec landed his first technology job at Logiquest. 

With no prior experience working in technology, Herjavec was under-qualified for the position. He ultimately secured the job by offering to work for free for the first 6 months of his employment. Speaking about his unconventional career route, Herjavec noted the value of education while emphasizing its limitations. 

“In my liberal arts program, we had to do a lot of reading. We had to read books each week and discuss them. This gave me the opportunity to take in lots of information and boil it down into something that can be easily explained. Education is great but at the end of the day after your first job no one will ask where you went to school or what you took. A degree will serve you well but experience is far more valuable.”

Ultimately, Mr. Herjavec was fired from Logiquest. While many would have been dissuaded by this turn of events, Herjavec credits his “ability to be resilient” as key to his subsequent success. “You have to bounce back. I was fired from [Logiquest] and it motivated me to start my own business which led to BRAK systems.”

He also notes that “everything I’ve learned in business is because I made a mistake, learned, and didn’t do it again. You have to try, but if you fail you need to be resilient and bounce back.”

Resilience is a hallmark of Herjavec’s success, but he also advises caution before committing fully to an endeavour. “I would tell entrepreneurs today to ensure they have a problem to solve, and customers who believe they have a solution, before they go all in. There’s nothing wrong with testing before you jump in. I sold my first order with BRAK before I even had a registered company name or tax ID. But I knew I had a customer, so I was on the right track. Even then I didn’t give up my other job until it became so overwhelmingly tiresome that I couldn’t physically do both.”

In the last decade, Herjavec has founded The Herjavec Group, starred in numerous television shows and written three books. He has learned how to dance and races cars in his spare time. Herjavec has managed to stay motivated despite the competitive nature of his field. In his words, “You have to treat every day like a new opportunity to succeed. I often refer to a Mark Cuban quote that says, ‘Everyday, someone wakes up with the sole intention of kicking your ass.’ I would add – don’t let that happen today… You have to be able to push through the pain – mental, physical, emotional, and keep the end state in mind in order to be persistent and seize the opportunity.”

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