Robert Herjavec (; Croatian: [xěr'jaʋet͡s]; born September 14, 1962) is a Croatian-Canadian businessman, investor, and television personality. A native of Varaždin, Croatia, he moved to Halifax, Canada after living and working on a farm with his family. After spending his youth in the relative middle class, he gained admission to the University of Toronto where he graduated with a double degree in political science and English.
He began his business career as a film producer and director before joining Logiquest selling IBM mainframe emulation boards. Herjavec eventually rose in the ranks to become general manager, but he left soon after founded his first company. BRAK Systems, a Canadian integrator of Internet security software, was founded from the basement of his home, and later sold to AT&T Canada in 2000 for $30.2 million. His rapid success in business and connection to television prompted producers to feature him on investing reality shows, such as CBC Television series Dragons' Den, and eventually ABC's version of the series, Shark Tank; he dispenses investment advice and acquires stakes in start-up companies along with his co-stars, Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Daymond John, Kevin O'Leary, and Barbara Corcoran. He has written various books on advancing in business including, Driven: How to Succeed in Business and Life (2010) and The Will to Win: Leading, Competing, Succeeding (2013).
Herjavec was born in 1962 in Varaždin, Croatia (formerly Yugoslavia), and grew up in Zbjeg. In 1970, at the age of eight, the family left the country, which had previously incarcerated Herjavec's father for speaking out against the regime. According to Herjavec, "He’d drink a little too much, say bad things about Communism, and got thrown into jail 22 times for being an anti-Communist." Herjavec's family arrived in Halifax with a single suitcase and only $20. The family eventually settled in Toronto, where they lived in the basement of a family friend's home for 18 months. For Herjavec, who spoke no English, the transition proved difficult. Having grown up on a farm and raised by his grandmother among neighbours with similar lifestyles, he now found himself in a much poorer economic class than his neighbours. Herjavec's father got a job in a Mississauga factory, making $76 a week—or $464.26 adjusted for inflation, in 2015. Herjavec cites his father, whom he describes as "a really, really tough guy", as a major influence in his life. Herjavec has described a seminal memory of his, when he came home one day to complain to his mother that his classmates were making fun of him. His father who used to walk to work to save money on bus fare, came home, and when he heard what his son described, instructed his son never to complain, which became a guiding principle in Herjavec's life, one which he says sparked his sense of perseverance. Another influential episode in his youth came when Herjavec's mother was persuaded by a travelling salesman to buy a vacuum cleaner for $500, which was seven weeks' salary. As a result, Herjavec swore his family would never be taken advantage of again.
In 1984, Herjavec graduated from New College at the University of Toronto, with a degree in English literature and political science. To make a living and help support his family, Herjavec took on a variety of minimum wage jobs in the 1990s, such as waiting tables, delivering newspapers, retail salesman, and collection agent.
Early career in film
Herjavec's first career was in film at an early age. He quickly moved behind the camera in various production roles. Herjavec worked in several productions as a 3rd AD (assistant director) including Cain and Abel and The Return of Billy Jack. His early film career culminated with the position of Field Producer of the XIV Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina for Global TV – where he was given an honour as one of the youngest producers of Olympic coverage.
Start in business
Looking for work in between productions, Herjavec applied for a position at a company called Logiquest selling IBM mainframe emulation boards. He was underqualified for the position, but convinced the company to give it to him by offering to work for free for six months. To pay the rent during this "free" period, Herjavec waited tables. He eventually rose in the ranks to become general manager of Logiquest. In 1990, after being fired from Logiquest, he founded his first company, BRAK Systems, a Canadian integrator of Internet security software, from the basement of his home. BRAK Systems was sold to AT&T Canada in March 2000 for $30.2 million.
Founding of Herjavec Group
After a three-year retirement as a stay-at-home father to his three children, Herjavec founded Herjavec Group in 2003, a security solutions integrator, reseller and managed service provider, of which he is currently the CEO. Herjavec Group is one of Canada's fastest-growing technology companies and the country's largest IT security provider, according to the Branham Group. Herjavec Group (THG) has grown from three employees in 2003 to 150 employees as of 2013, with a 643% growth rate from 2007–2012 and sales from $400K in 2003 to over $125 million in 2012. The company has done over $500 million in sales.
Herjavec has appeared as a regular on the Canadian CBC Television series Dragons' Den (seasons 1 to 6), and in America on ABC's version of the series, Shark Tank, where business pitches from aspiring entrepreneurs are heard by a panel of potential investors. Shark Tank has an estimated 7 million viewers, while Dragons Den Canada has been one of the highest rated and most watched television shows in that country. As of 2014, it is the top-rated show after Hockey Night in Canada.
Herjavec has won three Gemini Awards as part of Dragon’s Den for Outstanding Reality Show in Canada.
Herjavec presented awards at the 2013 Creative Arts Emmy Awards and the 2013 Mr. Olympia contest.
On February 24, 2015, Herjavec was announced as one of the contestants for season 20 of the reality series Dancing with the Stars. His partner was Australian dancer and his eventual wife Kym Johnson. On May 5, 2015, during a double elimination, Herjavec and Johnson were eliminated and finished in 6th place.
Herjavec is the author of two books, Driven: How to Succeed in Business and Life (2010) and The Will to Win: Leading, Competing, Succeeding (2013). Driven is organized by the work and life principles that made Herjavec both wealthy and successful, while The Will to Win delivers life lessons that promise to guide readers to greater happiness and success. "The Will to Win" is also the name of public presentations that Herjavec has given, which feature his advice to businesspeople, based on his life experiences. Herjavec has a new book slated for release on March 29, 2016 entitled You Don't Have to Be a Shark: Creating Your Own Success.
Herjavec married Diane Plese in 1990. They separated in July 2014 and were divorced in early 2016. He and his ex-wife have two daughters, Caprice and Skye, and a son named Brendan. In September 2015, Herjavec confirmed his relationship with his former Dancing with the Stars partner Kym Johnson. On February 27, 2016, the two became engaged. On July 31, 2016 they were married in Los Angeles, Calif.
Herjavec owns a home in the Bridle Path, Toronto area. The mansion has been host to luminaries such as Michael Bublé, John Travolta, Mick Jagger, and Bono. Herjavec paid $7.5 million for the mansion, which has been featured on MTV Cribs and on Joan Rivers' TV show How'd You Get So Rich?, and the Rolling Stones' tour video. Herjavec also has several other vacation homes.
A passion of Herjavec's is car racing, and he competes in the well-known Ferrari Challenge. Herjavec competed as #007 for The Herjavec Group Racing team in the North American Ferrari Challenge Series, where he won the Rookie of the Year title in 2011, after winning both races at the season-opener in St. Petersburg, Florida and following up with wins in Laguna Seca and Lime Rock, Connecticut.
In 2012, Herjavec was selected to be the Grand Marshal for the 2012 Honda Indy Toronto. He is also an avid car collector with several rare cars in his collection.
Herjavec is an avid golfer and runner. He has played in the 2010 Canadian charity open sponsored by RBC at the St. George’s Golf club. He has also competed in the 2011 New York marathon and the 2010 Miami marathon. He is a certified SCUBA diver (PADI) and a motorcycle enthusiast (owning several racing Ducatis).
Awards and honors
Herjavec and Herjavec Group Inc. have been the recipients of numerous entrepreneurial and business achievement awards including:
- 2012 Ernst & Young, Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Technology
- Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal by Governor General of Canada – 2012 for Outstanding Service to Canada
- Profit Magazine – "Hot 50" (2006)
- Profit Magazine – #108 on the Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies for 2013
- Branham Ranking – Canada's # 1 Security Company (2012), Top 5 Fastest Growing Technology Companies (2010 to 2013), Top 100 Integrators
- Computer Dealer News – Top 25 Integrators (2011 – 2013)
- CRN – Top 500 North America’s Technology Companies (2007 – 2013), Top 50 Fastest Growing Companies (2013), Fastest growing Security company (North America – 2013)
- Profit 500 - GTA Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship