At the age of eight, Robert Herjavec and his family fled to Canada from the communist regime in Yugoslavia. They left their native country with just one suitcase and $20 in their pockets. In an effort to make the most out of his opportunity to create a better life for himself, Herjavec developed a strong passion for working hard and it totally paid off. Today he is one of the most recognizable businessmen in North America. His company, Herjavec Group, is a Toronto-based IT security firm that reportedly realizes $150 million in annual sales.
With an estimated fortune of $200 million, Herjavec has committed to personally invest more than $16 million across 54 deals that were pitched on ABC's popular reality television show Shark Tank. He also starred on Canada's version of Shark Tank, Dragon's Den, for the first six seasons of the show. Below is an overview of how Robert Herjavec became a self-made multimillionaire.
Early Life and Schooling
Born in 1962, Herjavec grew up on his uncle's farm in Varazdin, in what is now Croatia. Although he was born into poverty, Herjavec enjoyed his childhood. He says that he ‘‘only had good memories’’ on the farm. During a CBC documentary of his life he said, ‘‘I was lucky to grow up like that. We were poor financially but we were never devoid of spirit, or love, or support, or encouragement. In that little village, I was the most important guy to my uncle. What a great way to grow up!’’
Herjavec's father was often arrested for speaking out against the communist system in Yugoslavia. In order to avoid future incarcerations, Herjavec's father decided to move the family to another country in 1970. Herjavec was eight at the time. The family initially moved to Italy, and later migrated to Halifax, Canada. In the end, they settled in a small suburb in Toronto.
For the first eighteen months after they left Yugoslavia, Herjavec and his family stayed in the basement of a friend. His father managed to get a job at a factory in Mississauga, Ontario. There he earned roughly $76 a week.
When Herjavec arrived in Canada he had no understanding of English. However, in 1984 he graduated with a degree in English Literature and Political Science from the University of Toronto. In a promotional video for the University of Toronto, Herjavec explained that he made the right choice when he decided to study English Literature. He said, “The ability to communicate is fundamental to what I do.” In the same video, Herjavec revealed that he did not have much of a social life at university. According to him, he “just wanted to get in, get my degree and get a job.”
Beginning of His Career
Herjavec began a career in the film business after graduating from college at age twenty-two. During that time he took on the role of assistant director for a handful of films, including "The Return of Billy Jack" and "Cain and Abel." He also worked as a field producer for the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo (back in Yugoslavia). Herjavec later left the film industry to work at a technology company. As he once explained, ‘‘The problem I saw with the film business was that it was very relationship-oriented. As a kid that knew nobody in Toronto, I did not see the opportunity. A good friend of mine told me about IT and what struck me right away was that it’s an industry based on what you can do today, not what you have done in the past or who you know or any of that.”
After quitting his job as a film producer, Herjavec applied for a position at a technology company that sold computer software. Although he was not qualified for the role, Herjavec managed to get the job because he had offered to work for free for the first six months of his post. During that time, Herjavec learned as much as he could about the technology industry. He also took on a number of entry-level jobs to pay for his expenses until he received a permanent salary. These jobs included working as a debt collector and delivering newspapers. As time passed, Herjavec was promoted to different roles in the company. He ultimately became the general manager before being fired in 1990. (For more, see: Why Successful Business Owners Sell Out.)
Robert The Mogul
Following the termination of his employment at Logiquest, Herjavec started a business with Warren Avis, the founder of Avis Rent a Car. His reason for becoming an entrepreneur was that he “needed to pay his mortgage.” In a 2012 interview with Inc. Magazine, Herjavec explained, “I got fired! I was one of those guys who never wanted to start their own business. I never saw myself as a leader. I saw myself as a great No. 2. I just wanted to do a good job and make a little more money every year.” He later sold his interest in that business for $60,000.
Herjavec then started a technology business, BRAK Systems, on his own from his basement. The company and quickly became the largest Internet security firm in Canada. It was acquired by AT&T, Inc. (T) in 2000 for $30.2 million. After the acquisition, Herjavec took on the role of Vice President of Sales at another computer business called Ramp Network. The company was shortly sold to Nokia for $225 million.
In an effort to spend more time with his wife and children, Herjavec took a break from his career for a few years. In 2003, he started a new venture called the Herjavec Group. The company provides information security services to other companies and has grown its annual sales from $400,000 to $150 million in a twelve-year period. When asked if he had an exit strategy from the Herjavec Group, Herjavec responded, "No, I'm not selling this one. Not for a long, long time. I'm really inspired to build a billion-dollar company."
Robert the Investor
In 2006, Robert Herjavec became a household name in Canada after he stared on the hit reality television series, Dragon's Den. On the show, businesses would pitch an investment opportunity to a panel of investors with the hope of making a deal with at least one investor. Herjavec starred on the show for six seasons. He later became an investor on the American version of the show, Shark Tank. Over the seven seasons that he has been on Shark Tank, Herjavec has committed to invest more than $16 million in a number of small businesses. (For more, see: 5 Things Investors Can Learn from Shark Tank.)
The Bottom Line
Robert Herjavec made his fortune in the technology industry. After being fired from his job in the 1990s, Herjavec started a couple of businesses on his own out of desperation. He eventually sold his stakes in those businesses for a combined total of $30.2 million. Herjavec has since become a television personality and has invested several million dollars in small businesses in the United States and Canada. Today, the name Robert Herjavec is synonymous with entrepreneurial success throughout North America.