Robert Herjavec
credit: Manuello Paganelli

Robert Herjavec Q&A

He’s one of five Shark Tank stars BJT has interviewed.

Robert Herjavec is best known as an investor on ABC-TV’s Emmy-winning Shark Tank, where he has been a regular since the show debuted in 2009. But he is also the founder and CEO of Herjavec Group, one of the world’s largest privately held cybersecurity businesses.

Born in Yugoslavia (now Croatia), the now 56-year-old Herjavec moved with his family to Canada at age eight. After graduating from the University of Toronto in 1984, he held a variety of minimum-wage jobs before working for several years in film production. Then he took a job at a company called LogiQuest, where he sold IBM equipment and rose to become general manager. After being fired from that position, he founded BRAK Systems, an internet security software operation that he sold to AT&T Canada for $30 million in 2000. After that, he took over a Silicon Valley business in the same field, called Ramp, that he later sold to Nokia for $225 million.

In 2003—after spending three years as a stay-at-home dad—he founded the Toronto-based Herjavec Group, another company focused on internet security. The first year, with a sales target of $5 million, the company did only $400,000 in sales, and Herjavec was convinced it wouldn’t succeed. However, by partnering with emerging cyber-technology providers from Silicon Valley and introducing new products, the firm was able to acquire other companies in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. Over the past 15 years, Herjavec Group has grown from three employees to 300; and it will do over $200 million in sales this year. It is No.1 on the Cybersecurity 500, a ranking of “the world’s “hottest and most innovative cybersecurity companies.”

Robert Herjavec
credit: Manuello Paganelli

Herjavec has authored three business books, including the bestselling Driven: How to Succeed in Business and in Life. He collect cars, used to race them, is a two-time marathoner, and two years ago was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars. While not crowned champion, he won a new wife, his dancing partner, Kym Johnson. When we caught up with him in Toronto, he was about to fly home to L.A. on his Gulfstream GIV-SP after a three-day trip that had taken him to Washington, Minneapolis, and Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Herjavec is the third Shark Tank star to sit for a BJT interview, following Mark Cuban and Daymond John. Two of the show’s guest sharks, Sir Richard Branson and John Paul DeJoria, have also been Q&A subjects here.

What was it like being an immigrant in a country where you didn’t even speak the language?
When I went to school, that was tough because I realized we were really different. We were very poor, though I didn’t know we were poor in Yugoslavia. I grew up on a farm with dirt floors there, but so did everyone I knew.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
A vet or an FBI agent. I had no concept of career until I was about 13, and then I realized I had to get a career that could pay me enough to live well.

What’s the best advice your parents gave you?
My mother said, “Don’t be intimidated by anybody because there is nobody better than you, and you are no better than anybody else, so treat everyone with respect.” My father said, “Never complain.”

After you graduated from college, what did you hope to do?
Be a big TV star and producer. Most immigrants think the way to make a lot of money is to be a celebrity and not a businessperson. Where I come from, being a businessperson isn’t viewed as a great career. But people on TV are viewed as successful. I actually did well. I was the field producer for the Winter Olympics for Canada in 1984.

Between film productions, you interviewed at a tech company called LogiQuest. Why did you consider working in a business so far removed from what you were doing?
Because I previously thought I was going to be the next Martin Scorsese, and then I couldn’t get a job. My dad had a rule: it’s OK to dream but pay the rent first. I could have cared less about computers or math, but the starting salary was $30,000. That was the only reason.

What do business leaders need to know about cyberattacks?
It’s really a matter not of if, but when. How quickly can your systems alert you to a data breach? Most of the large-scale breaches become bad because the adversary has been in your network for a long time and remains undetected.

What do you think is the most important characteristic of being an entrepreneur?
I’ve never met a successful entrepreneur who is miserable. You’ve got to believe that tomorrow will be better than today because if you don’t, the weight of negativity will crush you. Adaptability is important, too. Everything changes, and you’ve got to be able to adapt.

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What attributes do you look for in entrepreneurs on Shark Tank?
How confident are they? Do they believe in themselves? Are they so confident that they are arrogant? It all comes down to this: before you sell me on your business, sell me on yourself. Make me believe that I should believe in you.

Have you learned anything from the other sharks on the show?
All the time. We are such a diverse group with so many differing opinions. It’s great to be able to spend time with people who are equally driven and successful. There’s no physical type, no height requirement; business doesn’t care if you are good looking or not, if you are tall, short, or pudgy. There’s no requirement to success except adding value.

You obviously get a lot done: you run a successful business, appear on Shark Tank, write books, give speeches. How do you suggest that people be more productive?
It’s a matter of being able to divide the truly urgent from the important. People get caught up in the important. Every day there are 25 important things I need to do, but I am pretty clear which of those are truly urgent, which really move the ball forward. And I am extremely organized. If I’m driving to the west end for one meeting, there better be two other meetings there. I don’t believe in a lot of down time.

How long have you owned your GIV-SP?
About two years. Prior to the Gulfstream, I had a Bombardier Challenger 601. That was a great plane, but it’s hard to beat the windows on a Gulfstream.

How much do you fly?
About 300 hours a year. We need to fly a lot because when you compete with companies that are bigger than you, you’ve got to move faster.

Robert Herjavec
credit: Manuello Paganelli

Your fellow shark, Mark Cuban, said, “Work knowing that there’s someone else out there working 24 hours a day with the sole motivation of kicking your ass.”
I actually had that quote inscribed in granite above my desk. When we start out, we’re hungry, we’re small, we want to take on the world. If you’re successful, you get to a point where you feel a little bit of complacency. And the reality in business is there’s always somebody out there who wants to take it away. You’ve got to constantly be vigilant.

You’ve quoted Wall Street Journal editor Mary O’ Grady, who said, “If everything seems to be in control, you are not going fast enough.” What does that mean to you?
I used to race cars. What you learn in racing is that you are constantly pushing the limit, and you want to get to that place where you are going so fast you are on the edge of losing control, because if you are not, you’re just not going fast enough.

A few years ago, after you and your wife of 24 years separated, you said that you stood on a balcony at a Toronto hotel with thoughts of committing suicide. What did you do to get out of that mindset?
That was a really difficult time. I ended up calling my priest, who said, “I am going to send you to a very dark place, but you are going to see the power of love and hope, and it will change you.” That day I flew to Union Gospel Mission in Seattle, and I stayed for a couple of weeks. It’s a Christian mission for homeless people recovering from all sorts of addictions. It’s incredibly bleak, difficult, and painful on the surface but there are people with unbelievable stories and hope and spirit there. They gave me perspective, and that allowed me to reflect and get better.

Do you ever go back?
All the time. In our office, we have an outreach program where we pay for any of our employees to go to the mission and volunteer, do the outreach program, work in the soup kitchen. We’re connected to them for life.

What’s the most important thing you have learned about business?
Optimism. It goes back to what my dad said: we all have a choice to complain and blame others or to believe that we can do better. Barbara Corcoran on Shark Tank said to me a long time ago that the difference between successful people and others is the amount of time successful people allow themselves to feel sorry for themselves.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


NAME: Robert Herjavec

BIRTHDATE: September 14, 1962 

POSITION: CEO of global cybersecurity firm Herjavec Group, which he founded in 2003. Investor on ABC-TV’s Shark Tank. Author of You Don’t Have to Be a Shark: Creating Your Own Success (2016), The Will to Win (2013), and Driven: How to Succeed in Business and in Life (2010).

PREVIOUS POSITIONS: In 1990, founded BRAK Systems, which he sold in 2000.

EDUCATION: Degree in English literature and political science, 1984, University of Toronto

TRANSPORTATION: 2001 Gulfstream IV-SP. Owns eight supercars.

CHARITIES: Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission 

PERSONAL: Five children. Splits his time between Los Angeles and Toronto. Married to Australian ballroom dance champion Kym Johnson since 2016. Three children from previous marriage as well as twins, born April 2018, with Johnson. Enjoys running, reading, traveling.

Gulfstream IV-SP—Robert Herjavec’s Jet

Years manufactured               1992–2002

Price new                                $33M

Average current sale price      $3.7M

Passengers (typical)                13

Range                                      3,880 nm

Maximum cruise speed           500 ktas

Total fixed cost/year               $872,962

Total variable cost/year          $1,806,011

Source: Conklin & de Decker except current sale price, which is from AircraftPost. Range is maximum IFR range at long-range cruise speed with all seats occupied, NBAA IFR alternate fuel reserve calculations, 200 nm alternate. Cost figures based on 175,000 miles and 423 hours of flight per year.