Judson University is going to the "Shark Tank" as it rolls out a new speaker series.
Since 2011, Judson University in Elgin, Illinois, has held the World Leaders Forum. Guest speakers have included Queen Noor of Jordan, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. An early forum organizer was 2004 Judson alumnus Mark Vargas.
"I was part of the original team as the World Leaders Forum came together and they brought in George W. Bush as the first speaker," Vargas said. "Even as a student at Judson, I've been talking about wanting to get world leaders -- high profile leaders -- on campus."
In past forums, guests gave prepared remarks, often with a host facilitating a question and answer session. But Vargas decided to add his own speaker series alongside the World Leaders Forum. Judson University President Gene Crume says it changes a key element.
"We want this one to be different and we want this one to have a different feel, so this one, we really do want it to be more of a dialogue, more of a discussion," Crume said.
Vargas's background will play a key role in the choice of speaker. His most recent work is as a tech entrepreneur. But Vargas also worked as a consultant in Washington, D.C., and served as a civilian advisor in Iraq under the Department of Defense.
This varied background gives him a variety of connections to tap for guests. As for the subject matter, Vargas is looking for "an intimate, one-on-one conversation talking about a variety of topics, whether it's politics, current events, business, successes and failures they've had in their lives, how they were able to rebound."
Vargas's first guest will be Mark Cuban. He owns the Dallas Mavericks, but is most popularly known for his role on the television show "Shark Tank." Entrepreneurs present a business plan to a panel called "the sharks." Their goal is to convince panelists to invest money in their company and seal it with a business deal. Sometimes they're successful, and other times their ideas crash and burn.
Cuban has been a regular "shark" on the show since 2012 and Vargas is excited at the billionaire being his first guest.
"His net worth has actually gone up from $3.4 billion now to $4.1 billion, and so he keeps a pretty hectic schedule, and so I was just absolutely delighted that he agreed to come out," Vargas said.
Vargas has kept quiet on what exactly he and Cuban will discuss but teased that he would detail how the two became friends over the past couple years.
"I sent him a note and asked him and I said, 'Mark, how does the son of a truck driver and preschool teacher grow up and have a friend like Mark Cuban?'"
Cuban will be Vargas's first guest but Judson President Crume has bigger plans for the series. He says it will act as a third "product line" of speakers, complementing the existing Forum and the college's Inspirational Series.
He also said it would: "Continue the work of the World Leaders Forum to bring entrepreneurs and more business-oriented individuals that have the same type of focus that Mark does to campus and to the community."
Crume says Vargas is in a privileged position to invite guests because he is based in both Chicago and Washington, D.C.
"That having Mark here and his work with 1871, and his work with entrepreneurs in Chicago and still being on a national stage, it just felt like this was the best time for the idea to come together," he said. "We're glad his calendar could accommodate that."
1871 is a Chicago-based center for entrepreneurship and Vargas is a member through Licentiam. Vargas founded the company to improve the bureaucracy that handles physician medical licenses throughout the country.
Mark Cuban will be the first guest in the "Conversations with Mark Vargas" speaker series at Judson University on May 16th.
Depending on feedback, Vargas says he and Crume will decide whether to hold this event once or twice per year, and make any other necessary tweaks. Vargas says several national media personalities and political figures have already said they want to participate in future "Conversations." But he's waiting on identifying them directly until the series begins in earnest.