Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Canada was my road to success

Canada was my road to success

Robert Herjavec, National Post

A few years ago, when I sold the company I had launched on a shoestring, I realized that my family and I had total freedom to live anywhere in the world.

My wife Diane and I discussed moving to Europe, and we actually considered buying a house there. We’re both Croatian, and our ancestral roots, plus the culture and prestige of Europe, made the idea appealing. Besides, raising our children there would provide them with lots of prestigious contacts.

And then it hit me: Who was I kidding? I couldn’t leave Canada.

All that I have achieved in life has been made possible by just two factors: My drive to succeed and my Canadian passport.

Spending my childhood in the rural Croatian village of Zbjeg had taught me that nothing in this world is achieved without ambition, a focus on success and the freedom to follow your dreams. Croatia at the time was part of communist Yugoslavia, which provided the other lesson in my life. Watching how my father and others were restricted in the things they could achieve and the thoughts they could express taught me the definition of freedom.

My father refused to accept the restrictions imposed by the communists, and when I was eight years old we sold all the possessions that couldn’t fit in two battered suitcases, bought steamship tickets to Canada, and arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax with 20 Canadian dollars and the address of a relative in Toronto. We found a basement apartment in Etobicoke, my father got a job sweeping floors in a factory, and I discovered that life as an immigrant kid can be a challenge. My English was bad, my accent was thick and my Croatian-style clothes were very uncool.

But unlike Croatia, things could change in Canada - for the better. Despite the fact that the Herjavecs were not a long-established family with connections to the country’s leaders, that we did not have a fat savings account or even a family car (my dad walked two miles each way to work every day to save bus fare), or that we did not live in a large and fancy house, it didn’t matter. We could dream big and, with effort and drive, we could achieve big.

People born in Canada are not able to fully appreciate this distinction, and I understand this. They grow up without experiencing life in a country where your destiny is determined by the status of your birth more than the scope of your talents. In Canada your social standing, race and religious beliefs are of no consequence compared with your ability, dedication and ambition.

We take this for granted. We shouldn’t. Nor should we take for granted Canada’s reputation for honesty and fair dealing, which is as much a part of our culture as the maple leaf.

My work in various fields takes me to countries around the world. When I meet people in these far-flung nations, I never tire of explaining how Canada provided the means for me to achieve success, and how much the country’s values mean to me and my family.

It’s been more than 30 years since my parents and I left Croatia. If, on that day, someone had suggested that I would achieve the life I’m living now, I would have replied ti ste ludi, which means “you’re crazy!” in Serbo-Croat. Of all the things I need to acknowledge for my success, nothing is more important to me than the opportunity that Canada provided.

Every year tens of thousands of people take the oath of Canadian citizenship. They pledge allegiance to the Queen and they promise to fulfil their duties as a Canadian citizen. Each of them has a story to tell about their reasons for coming to this country and becoming Canadians. Their story is no less important or instructive than my own. Just different.

On behalf of all the stories that Canadians treasure about their country, I ask everyone to join me in reaffirming the oath of citizenship, reflecting on their appreciation of Canada and what it means to them.

I do this every day.

(This article originally appeared in the National Post and on their website on October 20, 2011.)

Robert Herjavec is the president of the Herjavec Group and the author of Driven: How To Succeed in Business and Life.