'Shark Tank': Robert Herjavec on College, Debt and the Cost of Freedom

Today's cuppa: hotel coffee at the biannual Television Critics Association Press Tour

Robert-Herjavec-Shark-Tank.jpgSorry I've been away from HCTV for a bit, doing all sorts of stuff that you can see right here.

This week -- and half of next -- I'm in a hotel ballroom in Pasadena, Calif., learning all about what's new, now and wow on TV. Today was devoted to ABC Family and ABC, including a panel with the panel regulars from the Friday night hit "Shark Tank."

The conversation in the press conference reminded me of one I had a few months ago on the set of the reality show -- in which inventors and entrepreneurs pitch their creations and/or businesses to a panel of high-powered possible investors -- with Robert Herjavec, an immigrant to Canada from Eastern Europe, who built a fortune in tech and tech security.

Considering the dismal state of the economy -- in particular, this Web article should scare the pants off of young folks and their parents -- what's to become of all the kids graduating from college today with upwards of $200,000 in debt (or even far, far more)?

Asked about this, Herjavec says, "Oh, great question. My first question is, why the hell are you in college, accumulating $200,000 in debt? So, here's the funny thing, (fellow Sharks), Mark (Cuban), Daymond (John) and I were at Harvard last year, and we spoke to them. We gave them great advice, they were all fascinated. And they all had $200,000 in debt.

"At the very end, you know what I said to them? 'The three of us are pretty successful, and guess what? None of us' -- well, I have a college degree, but I barely passed -- but I don't think Mark has a college degree."


He shouts over to Cuban, "Mark, did you finish college? Did you? I'm sure he barely passed."

(For the record, Cuban has a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Indiana's Kelley School of Business.)

"I have a degree in English literature,"
Herjavec says. "It's not really what you know; it's what you do with what you know."

Regarding what he says to students, Herjavec says, "I did the valedictorian speech for my son's university, and the same question came up. I said, 'The way to be successful in the world is you have to be an expert in something.' The world is full of people who think they know everything.

"So, somebody put their hand up and said, 'What is the definition of an expert?' I said, 'An expert is somebody who gets paid for their knowledge, so know something to a degree where somebody is willing to pay you for it.'


"Look at Daymond, what he knows about distribution; look at what Kevin (O'Leary) knows about finance. If you were starting out, and you wanted to get a product on QVC, would you pay (inventor and home-shopping TV personality) Lori Greiner $10,000 for her advice? I would. If you were starting a security company, you'd come to me. That's the key."

Herjavec also advises saving for or paying your way through college, rather than subsisting on huge student loans.

"I paid my way through school," he says, "and when I was done, I was at zero. I would much rather be at zero than negative. That's the problem with these kids. They're negative $200,000 in the hole. They're making decisions and taking jobs in financial services -- which is a horrible way to make a living -- so they can get the big salary to pay off their loans.

"They're not following their passion, because they can't afford to, and that's a horrible thing to do at 22. That's something you should do when you're 40 and have two kids and a big mortgage."


Of course, one can go to college in pursuit of a profession -- like medicine or law -- or leave with a degree in gender studies, which Fox News' Greg Gutfeld calls "a racket," saying that "gender studies doesn't help you do anything else but teach gender studies."

"You were listening to my argument at dinner last night with my wife and my daughter,"
says Herjavec. "My wife is an eye doctor, so she thinks she should go to school and get a vocation, like doctor, lawyer. I'm, 'Great, if that's what you want to do.'

"But if you're not going to do that, then I don't think it matters what your degree is in. Look at the people working here. My degree's in English literature; I don't think Mark has a computer degree.


"All university tells me, when I'm looking at a resume, is that you're willing to learn. That's all it tells me. And you can probably drink, right?"

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