Every person who has had to pick out an area of study in college has probably heard the old joke that you don’t get a job with an English degree.
Fortunately for those who did end up pursuing English, not only is there actual data to refute the wisecracks, but “Shark Tank” star and multi-millionaire Robert Herjavec tells CNBC Make It that his English degree has helped him “quite a bit” in his career as an entrepreneur.
Herjavec, who is also the founder and CEO of cybersecurity firm Herjavec Group, says he graduated from the University of Toronto in 1984 with dual degrees in political science and English literature.
“Sales is the art of getting somebody else to see things your way and buy something from you. That something could even be you.”
For Herjavec, the biggest benefit of being English major was that it bolstered his reading, writing and speaking skills.
“One of the fundamental keys in life is communication,” he says. “You can have the best ideas in the world, but if you can’t get somebody else to listen to you, you’re never going to get ahead.”
In fact, improving his communications skills turned out to be extremely important in his business career, Herjavec says. Communication is a key part of selling something — whether you’re selling a product, a business or even selling yourself to a potential employer — and it’s a fundamental skill for every entrepreneur.
“Everything in life is about selling something.” Herjavec says. “Sales is the art of getting somebody else to see things your way and buy something from you. That something could even be you.”
Herjavec gives numerous examples of how mastering the art of selling can come in handy, from asking your boss for a raise to convincing your professor that you deserve a better grade.
“Everything in life is about sales,” Herjavec says. “You have to master sales.”
Herjavec had to rely on his own skills in his 20s, when he was hired by a startup called Logiquest to sell IBM products. (Herjavec has even said he had try hard to sell himself just to get that job, considering he didn’t have much experience working with computers at the time). In 1990, he started an internet security business called BRAK Systems that he would later sell for over $30 million CAD (or, about $20 million US at that time) to AT&T Canada a decade later.
Now, as a star of “Shark Tank,” Herjavec says he and his fellow investors on the show will often decide whether to invest in a business based on how impressive the entrepreneurs are at pitching their product, rather than whether or not they like the actual product.
“A great entrepreneur can take a so-so product and make a great business out of it. A bad entrepreneur can take a great product and run it into the ground,” he says. “Bet on the jockey, not on the horse.”