Shark Tank star talks entrepreneurship with Brandeis International Business School students

Asper Award winner Robert Herjavec urges young innovators to ‘put yourself out there,’ shares insights on how to build a great team

By Douglas Moser

Robert Herjavec will be the first to tell you that he wasn’t born a successful entrepreneur, best-selling author and TV star.

The charming, articulate executive we see today on ABC’s Emmy Award-winning show “Shark Tank” is a far cry from the shy, uncertain young man who grew up in Canada after fleeing communist Yugoslavia with his parents.

“At 20 I couldn’t speak to another human being,” Herjavec told a packed crowd of student entrepreneurs at Brandeis International Business School. “I believed that, being a typical Eastern European, people who put themselves out there were good at talking, were showmen.”

To get what he wanted in life, Herjavec soon discovered that he needed to step outside his comfort zone. The world, he said, would not beat a path to his door.

“What I learned is there is no such thing as genius in the darkness of a basement,” said Herjavec, who went on to build several successful IT companies and is currently the CEO of Cyderes. “No one is going to come magically out of the sky and pick you out of obscurity and make you great if you don’t put yourself out there.”

Herjavec gave an inspirational virtual talk and fielded questions from students after receiving the 2023 Asper Award for Global Entrepreneurship. The award is given annually to a person who best exemplifies the International Business School’s values of entrepreneurial spirit and independent thinking.

Herjavec also shared an early lesson about team building. As a young businessman, he followed misguided advice that you should hire people you get along with — someone you’d “want to sit next to on a trans-Atlantic flight,” he said.

Years later, after being invited to participate in a training exercise with Army Rangers, Herjavec asked if members of the elite military unit like each other.

The officer in charge appeared confused.

“He looked at me and said, ‘I think you’re misunderstanding the purpose of the team,’” said Herjavec. “‘A team is not a bunch of people that like each other. A team is a bunch of people that understand and respect each other’s ability to accomplish a mission. Period.’”

From then on, Herjavec said his hiring strategy completely changed. “That was a real ‘Ah-ha!’ moment for me,” he said.

Leonard Asper ’86, president and CEO of Anthem Sports & Entertainment Corp., a multinational media company based in Toronto, presented the award to Herjavec. Asper is the benefactor of the Asper Center for Global Entrepreneurship.

“The part of this award that’s important to me is recognizing people who give back to society,” said Asper. “Nobody has a better track record of that than Robert. Being big and successful in business is about the reward, yes, but it’s also a responsibility. It’s not enough to just be good and smart and make a lot of money. You have to give back, and Robert does that like no other.”

The ceremony also recognized the winners of the inaugural Asper Student Startup Prizes. International Business School alumna Bozhanka Vitanova, MA’16, founder and CEO of AI-powered startup TeamLift, received the Brandeis Alumni Entrepreneurship Award.

This article originally appeared on the Brandeis International Business School website.