ARLINGTON – Nicknamed Mr. Wonderful on ABC’s Shark Tank, Kevin O’Leary dismisses suggestions that he’s mean to entrepreneurs on hit primetime program.
"It's important to have somebody that keeps it real. We often get into a big debate about this but I really feel that I'm doing everybody a huge favor. That I'm the only shark that tells the truth," O’Leary told WFAA last week before speaking to students at U.T. Arlington.
But he wasn’t always the bad guy.
The producer of the Canadian version of the show, Stuart Coxe, told the CBC last month that he had to urge O’Leary to be more "evil.”
"And he says, 'Oh, my wife tells me I can't do that anymore. She's getting hell from her friends at cocktail parties,'" said Coxe according to the CBC.
Viewers know his reputation. He is brutally honest in business.
"I'm a family man like anybody else,” he continued. “I've got kids. I've got relatives. Of course, I've got feelings. What I'm trying to get people to understand - particularly the young entrepreneurs I teach - I do a lot of teaching these days graduating cohorts on engineering courses for example, you've gotta separate the emotion out of investment decisions."
But here's what you might not know about the firebrand businessman. O’Leary is a talented still photographer.
He can jam out on a guitar, lives in Canada, and just announced a new venture last month.
It’s something he's not allowed to discuss on the hit primetime show.
O’Leary wants to be prime minister of Canada.
“I am going to be prime minister of Canada. Not want to be. I don't do things and fail,” he explained.
Last month, O’Leary announced he’s running to lead the Conservative Party of Canada. He said he thinks conservatives will be able to oust Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada.
On his campaign website, O’Leary wrote, "With the election of Donald Trump to our south, Canada's largest trading partner is headed by a businessman with an aggressive strategy that could hurt the Canadian economy."
“We're not like the Mexican relationship,” O’Leary told WFAA. “Ours is a balanced trade situation. We don't have a huge deficit on either side of the border. So I'm not sure Donald Trump knows that but he's going to find that out when he starts negotiating. You really can't be a protectionist with a trading partner that's equivalent and is responsible for nine million U.S. jobs. Think about that.”
Mexico is Texas’ largest trading partner. Canada is second.
"I'm going to scrape all those stupid policies out of Ottawa and we're going to fix this country,” O’Leary said during a recent interview with Canadian television network, CTV.
He already faces the comparison between himself and President Donald Trump.
The two men have obvious parallels. Both are successful in business, reality show stars and conservative.
"You know, people say, you're similar to Trump. I am in the sense that we both work for [reality show TV producer] Mark Burnett on reality television but that's where the similarities end. If there was a wall around Canada – my father came over on a boat from Ireland in 1947 and landed in Halifax and met my mother who was a Lebanese immigrant. If there was a wall, I wouldn't exist. So Canada is a much more inclusive country. We don't have policies like that," said O’Leary.
If he wins the election, will he quit Shark Tank?
“I don't think so because I reach so many millennials. It's a decision I don't have to make now because the election isn't for years to come,” added O’Leary.
The election is two years away – at the end of 2019.
It gives him enough time to develop his new role as the one now making the pitch while hoping his country invests in him.
ABC’s Shark Tank airs Fridays at 8:00 p.m. on WFAA.