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“Some people say, ‘I don’t know why I’m into cars,’ but for me, it was crystal clear,” says Robert Herjavec, one of the Sharks on ABC’s long-running Shark Tank, as he sits on the back of his Rolls-Royce Cullinan’s tailgating seats on a late summer morning, at a location he’d prefer not to disclose for safety purposes.
“I’m an immigrant. I came here with my dad and I’m an only child who escaped from a communist country [Yugoslavia], and we came to Canada with one suitcase and no money. The whole melodramatic story. A few years later — I must have been about 10 years old at the time, and I’m walking down the street with my dad and we see this thing coming down the road and I say to my dad, ‘What’s that?’ And my dad says, in his thick accent, ‘That Cadillac?’ And I’m like, ‘What’s a Cadillac?’ ”
The Emmy-nominated TV host and producer continues, “The Yugo was the hot car [back in Yugoslavia] and so my dad says, ‘That Cadillac … [that’s] for rich people.’ And the way he said it and the way he loved cars, that was it for me. I was hooked. I didn’t know what a Cadillac was, I didn’t know what rich people were, but ever since then, I wanted cars.”
The son, who now has homes in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto, later bought a pearl white Cadillac Sedan DeVille for his father. “Whether you like cars or you don’t like cars, the car meant something to my dad. He was speechless when I gave him the keys,” recalls Herjavec, who married his second wife, professional dancer Kym Johnson, in 2016; the two met when he competed on Dancing With the Stars in 2015 and was paired with her. For himself, Herjavec has since expertly curated an eclectic collection of vintage, luxury and sports cars, each of which is emblematic of his automotive desires.
“From a very early age, I associated cars with aspiration,” explains Herjavec, who worked briefly as an assistant director in Hollywood before making a fortune in computer security and information technology. “Some people fall in love with cars because of the mechanics or because of the engine. I fell in love with cars for what they stood for and what they meant and for the freedom they represent.”
One of his most notable cars is a 1956 Ford Thunderbird, which was once Frank Sinatra’s and is seen in a famous photo from the same year. After Herjavec acquired the Ford, he was able to buy the fedora Sinatra wore in the photo, too.
His collection also includes a 1958 Porsche 356; a 2019 Porsche Speedster; a limited-edition 2020 Ford GT; an ultra-rare 2021 Mercedes-AMG GTR Black Series P One edition, one of only 275 made; a 1971 Ferrari Daytona (“Truly a perfect car,” he says); and an extremely collectible multimillion-dollar 2014 Ferrari LaFerrari, of which only around 700 were made worldwide.
If you can analogize car collecting to life, it’s the LaFerrari that represents the risks of being an entrepreneur.
“People always think when you have a certain amount of success that it’s like you go through this door and your life is nothing but rainbows and unicorns and puppy dogs forever. People don’t realize, no matter how successful you can be, there are bad days. I went through a spell where I went through a really difficult personal time and a difficult time for the business and I had to make this decision. I didn’t have a lot of spare cash — either I keep the car and risk the business or I sell the car. So I sold it to a guy and made him promise me that he would never sell it to somebody else and I made myself a promise — one day I would buy this car back, but by then I will have so much money, I’ll just write a check for it and not even think about it.
“So fast-forward seven years later,” he continues, “I sell a piece of my business for a substantial amount of money and the first thing I do is I call the guy, like I’ve called him every year, and say, ‘Please sell me the car.’ He’s like, ‘I really love the car.’ Long story — I talked him into it and I buy the car back and just write a check for it.”
Since Shark Tank is now 14 seasons in — the new season premiered Sept. 23 and includes Gwyneth Paltrow as a guest Shark — the question arises: Has his access to rare vehicles gotten better as the series has progressed and his fame has increased?
“It’s funny you asked that: About 10 years ago, I realized one of the benefits of being a celebrity is the car manufacturers will give you access to certain cars. I never want a deal. I just want access. As you know, there are very special cars out there, and being on Shark Tank, I’m the car guy on the show and I’ve become known for that.”
But even for a car guy like Herjavec, sometimes getting access to a certain car is still a challenge. “My wife thinks this is nuts, but for some of these cars, you have to interview with the president of the company, and when you pass it’s a great feeling, but even I can’t get certain cars. When I couldn’t get the Ford GT, I called my good friend Jay Leno, and I’m like, ‘Please, Jay, can you put in a call for me?’ I use that favor very sparingly, because I don’t ever want to be that guy, but I leaned on Jay to help me get the Ford GT.”
When asked how the emotional side of being a car collector relates to his pragmatic business side, Herjavec pauses for a moment and says with a laugh, “Well, first of all, I lie to myself because I only buy stuff I love, but I tell myself it’s a good investment or there is some pragmatic element to it. But I love to hunt for cars, I love to search and love to find them. I love to find the meaning of the cars on my own and my tastes are very eclectic. Look at my Morgan,” he says, waxing on about his love of the cherry red 2002 Morgan Plus 8 Roadster. “I love the emotion behind it and I think for you to own a Morgan, you’ve got to appreciate what a Morgan is. I love things that are pure in purpose. It’s not luxurious, but if you want a top-down British — and I mean a truly British experience — it’s the Morgan.”
After years of negotiating deals on Shark Tank, you would think that one of the main Sharks — a man who has negotiated more than $16.5 million worth of deals, according to Sharkalytics, a website that tracks the investments on the show — would have some tips for negotiating a hard bargain for a car, but here Herjavec again laughs. “That’s such a great question because you would think that, right, I’m a good negotiator, but I’m the easiest guy in the world to sell a car to. I feign negotiation, but if I love the car and I’m like, ‘Ready, let’s go,’ I already have my checkbook or my card out and I have this huge smile on my face, and then I’ll tell you, ‘I want to deal,’ but you know what, I don’t mean it. If I love it, I just want to buy it.”
This story first appeared in the Sept. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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