Things are off to a good start as Cold Call heads to Harvard Square’s Tasty Burger to sit down with Stefan Vitorovic.
DC: Stefan, what are you eating?
SV: I’m eating a bacon turkey burger with guacamole, a shout out to Cali. Avocados aren’t nearly as good in New England as in California.
SV: The sun shines brighter in California.
DC: Is that where you are originally from?
SV: No, I’m from Belgrade, Serbia, but when I was born, it was Yugoslavia. I then moved to America when I was 8. My parents had a vacation home in South Florida which became a permanent home when war broke out.
DC: How often do you go back to Serbia?
SV: In my dark past, I used to work in finance, and that restricted my ability to travel, but I try to go back at least once a year.
DC: Do you feel very close to the Serbian way of life?
SV: After traveling all over Europe this past summer, I started introducing myself as “American” for the first time.
DC: So with inside knowledge, I know you were named one of Serbia’s young leaders to watch. How is it that you’re still on the Serbian circuit?
SV: Part of it is that my family still lives there, and part of it is that in my country, as a result of the wars, there’s been a brain drain of sorts. It’s been hard to keep talent, so one day, I would like to give back. That’s something that’s pretty important to me.
DC: How do you envision being able to give back?
SV: It depends on the stage of my life, but one of the best ways is to help kids get an education in the West, especially college. Eventually, I’d consider running for office, but that would be much further down the line.
DC: So growing up in South Florida, how has that shaped the man you are?
SV: I like wearing linen pants, although not in this weather! I use a little extra hair product for the average guy. Miami is super culturally diverse. Also, in other cities, I think people are always looking to the future; in Miami people live in the present a lot more. That’s something I try to do, enjoying the moment, as opposed to always planning – embracing and appreciating your surroundings, like our little lunch date.
(DC, flattered, and somewhat concerned about what happens when the Serbian press gets wind of this unauthorized interview)
DC: How has your HBS experience been so far?
SV: It’s been phenomenal. I’ve loved the experience and getting to breathe a bit and get off the hamster wheel. It’s a unique time, and I’m not sure when we’ll have it again. I’ve made it a point to get to know a lot of people and to experiment professionally and personally.
DC: You seem to keep a pretty level, zen head. What are the things that are important to you here?
SV: I came to HBS with a clear priority set of what I wanted to get out of b school, and very early on, it was clear it was ‘me’ time, which doesn’t mean spending time by myself, but it’s time being productive as I define it. I also learn to say no, because there are so many options, and having trouble saying no leads to stress.
DC: Any tips?
SV: People at HBS are often into maintaining flexibility and options, and that’s good for businesses, but for people, that can be hard.
DC: I saw you yesterday in the Rocket Internet session – how did you feel about the infamous Oliver Samwer?
SV: A lot of the stuff he said resonated with me. His advice is good for other HBS people as well. One of the things I got out of that talk was that you don’t need to wait for the perfect opportunity or until you’ve acquired a massive toolbox of skill sets. Many people younger than us have already transformed the way the world works. There are a lot of smart people in our class and at HBS generally, so it’s all about making that leap of faith.
DC: What are you going to do for spring break?
SV: Going back home to South Florida to see family, friends, and attend Ultra Fest.
DC: Tell me about your road to HBS.
SV: I studied molecular and cell biology at Stanford and never thought I’d make the transition to the business world this quickly.
DC: What happened?
SV: I traded in my lab coat for a Brioni suit! I just realized you don’t need an MD or PhD to run a healthcare company. It’s all a finance blur since then – banking, private equity, blah, blah.
DC: So what are you thinking for the summer?
SV: Thinking of getting some start up experience – maybe in healthcare IT – and I’m also considering search funds.
DC: What geographic location is of interest to you in the future?
SV: Most broadly, the whole globe.
DC: Quite literally, the world is your oyster.
SV: Literally. I do love the rays in South Florida, and they don’t have any state personal income tax, but Europe, Asia, Latin America – wherever, wherever there’s opportunity!
DC: Now, to the heart of the matter, how do you feel about the ladies of HBS?
SV: I love ‘em. Ooh, not sure you’re supposed to say ‘ladies.’ I think I’ve made some great friends.
DC: Are you surprised about how much emphasis HBS puts on teaching work-life balance?
SV: It’s a conversation that’s definitely worthwhile. I’m all about balance.
DC: Why do you think intense couples come out of HBS?
SV: You take one intense person and put them together with another intense person…
DC: And what are you looking for in a partner? And are you single?
SV: I want beauty and brains. And yes, I am.
DC: What is the most attractive thing about a girl?
SV: Physically? Her eyes. Non-physically? Confidence.
DC: Give me a day in the life in 10 years.
SV: I wake up, get an intense work out in my home gym, maybe today I drop the kids off, maybe the wife does, go to the office, work with like-minded people or maybe I work from home. Will offices be different than they are now? I cut out in time to come home for dinner.
DC: Any new years resolutions?
SV: Keep in touch with people important to me on a regular basis. At HBS, you’re constantly immersed, so it’s important not to forget friends and family outside. The other one is health – holistic, mental and physical health.
DC: What is the latest in your fitness routine?
SV: I have a long term approach to fitness. Healthy habits for life rather than any diet or fad workout.
DC: Is there a set Shad crew that you always see with weights?
SV: Yeah, there’s a group of familiar faces you see, you give them a nod, especially when you’re working your legs.
DC: Why are legs a big deal?
SV: Because you look good in a Speedo!
DC: Any last thoughts?
SV: Don’t take yourself too seriously.