Or…How a Waitress from Joisey Found her Power—and USED IT!
By Grace Bennett
Real estate mogul and ‘Shark Tank’ celebrity Barbara Corcoran opened a talk at Westchester Community College in May opining about the one person who may have figured as her most prominent influence: Her mother.
“My mother ran our household like a boot camp. You didn’t dare cross her,” Barbara said, also pointing out her “phenomenal organizational abilities” managing a family of ten children in a modest, two bedroom apartment in New Jersey.
Barbara also related that her mom was uncanny at “nailing” each of her kid’s “gifts,” including dubbing her brother as “the kid who could dance.” Noted Barbara: “Tom is now a ballet dancer for Alvin Ailey.” As for Barbara herself, her mom aptly declared her daughter’s gift: “a wonderful imagination.”
Another pivotal figure was an older (by ten years) and charming fellow named Ramon Simon who showed up at a Jersey diner one day where Barbara was waitressing (after receiving straight Ds in high school!) Apparently girlfriend hunting, “Ramon chose me over another waitress, ‘Gloria,’ a stacked dead ringer for Dolly Parton,” said Barbara. “Men would line up to catch a glimpse of her.” The experience taught Barbara early on that “men are just as attracted to the great white virgin as they are to the bombshell.”
Ramon and she ran off to the city–causing a major rift with mom…“She hated him; it broke my mother’s heart,” she said. For seven years, Ramon and she worked building up a business until mom’s intuition bore fruit. Barbara said Ramon announced he was leaving Barbara for their secretary. Barbara was devastated. The breakup, she said, and Ramon’s own cruel declaration, “You know, you will never survive without me,” steeled Barbara to prove him wrong and employ the imagination her mom was so clear about. “One day, I found my power,” she said, and set up an office with a meager $1,000, calling it, simply, “The Corcoran Group.”
Through the ups and downs of the market, Barbara would adapt accordingly. “I would just think of Ramon laughing at me.” She proved him dead wrong when she sold the company for a whopping $66 million.
A key wisdom gleaned from years of successful real estate selling and marketing: “Perception creates reality.” On a hunch, in the Corcoran Group’s early days, Barbara sent her now landmark “The Madonna Report,” to media outlets, hungry, she said, for facts and figures in a record low NYC market.
“I knew nothing about Madonna,” she laughed. Still, a producer invited her to appear on TV as an expert right away. From that point on, Barbara’s name, as she put it, “rose to the top of the food chain…If you can be the person churning out the numbers on a constant basis, they will call you their drug supplier!” Another secret to Barbara’s success was differentiating between “expanders” and “containers” at work. She looked for the ying to her yang, and found it in a woman named Esther, a clear “container,” who kept Barbara on task and organized.
She advised attendees to also get better, not just at hiring, but also at firing, and warned about the dangers of “dead wood” to any company’s bottom line. But showing a softer edge too, Barbara added that she also prided herself on personally coaching fired individuals on careers they were perhaps better suited for.
Finally, she described a culture of sheer fun in her company “that made us the company you wanted to be in.”
“Fun is the most underutilized tool in business,” she said, and builds camaraderie “even amongst the most competitive real estate agents.” To that end, she would routinely organize outings, “the wackier and more shocking, the better,” she said.
Barbara’s final pointer was encouraging hiring persons who are “great at failure. I look for the people who can take a hit and get up again. They don’t spend time feeling sorry for themselves.” And there you have it…a condensed version of Barbara’s secrets to success. The gathering ended with many hungry for more, and lining up to purchase a copy of her hot, new book, Shark Tales.
Grace Bennett is Publisher and Editor of The Inside Press, Inc., dba Inside Chappaqua and Inside Armonk magazines since 2003. She has spent the last four years successfully publishing in a down print market.