University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine
Winter 2010

60 Seconds with Robert Herjavec

Advice from the Dragon's Den judge: don't be cutthroat, but don't be a pushover, either.

Photo courtesy of CBCHe’s a man who loves his Lamborghinis, owns a private island and believes in karma. Robert Herjavec (BA 1984 New College) worked his way to the heights of business success with his own network security company, and now has two reality-TV gigs: he is a judge on CBC’s Gemini-nominated Dragons’ Den and the new ABC show Shark Tank. In both, budding entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of fiery judges, who are also the investors. Lisa Bryn Rundle pitches her questions to Herjavec.

What’s the appeal of business for you?
I wanted to do something that would result in a pretty good living, and business seemed the route to go.

Why did you want to become a TV personality, too?
Because somebody lied to me and told me there’s lots of money in it.

Lots of money at the CBC?
Really, it wasn’t by choice…. Somebody called. I’m on TV. Four years later, I’m still on TV.

Now you’re on more TV. Which is better – being a dragon or a shark?
On Dragons’ Den it’s like being with a bunch of friends you get along really well with but don’t see that often. And I enjoy being a shark because it’s very high stakes. And Robert Downey Jr. was filming the new Iron Man next to us. That’s pretty cool.

But in terms of the beasts…
I loved the entire dragon imagery until I saw an interview with Mark Burnett, who produces Shark Tank. They asked him, “Who would win in a fight, a dragon or a shark?” And he basically said, in this incredulous tone, “Duh. Dragons aren’t real.” Up until then I loved the dragon thing.

Dragons do have a strong place in our cultural imagination.
I think a mystical creature works for the Canadian market. But a shark is a mean, real, predatory animal, and that’s definitely more U.S. television. We don’t want sharks here. In fact, in Canada I’m surprised it’s not called the puppy tank. Or the puppy farm.

Or the bunny ranch.
Oh no, that’s totally different. That’s a whole different show.

Is there a difference between the American and the Canadian contestants?
I would have thought the Americans would be more aggressive and driven, but nope.

Is the real business world as dramatic as the shows make it seem?
Ninety-eight per cent of the people I work with in business are good people. But you can’t be a pushover.

So I shouldn’t ask you about your most cutthroat move?
I’m always careful about how I treat others, because you never know. It’s just bad karma. The hardest thing you have to learn is not to be cutthroat, but to say no.

It must be easier when the pitches are bad.
Well, except when you’re on TV it’s more like, No! No! No! No!

Watch a clip of Robert Herjavec on the premiere episode of Shark Tank

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