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Business Lessons from Shark Tank's Barbara Corcoran

The real estate mogul shared her wisdom in the keynote address at the National Association of Professional Women conference in New York City.
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On Friday, the sixth-floor ballroom at the Marriott Marquis hotel in New York City was filled with the sounds of cheering and laughing women (and select men) during the keynote address by real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran at the National Association of Professional Women conference. The wildly successful and unapologetic businesswoman--well known for her appearances on ABC's Shark Tank--traced her entrepreneurial journey from her entry into the real estate industry in her early 20s to where she is today.

 

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During her speech, Corcoran passed on the most important business lessons she learned along the way. Here are a few highlights:

The meek shall not inherit the earth

After entering the New York real estate business, Corcoran quickly realized that what her mother taught her and her siblings during their childhood didn't necessarily hold true in the big city. Although after watching Shark Tank it's hard to imagine Corcoran ever being meek, the entrepreneur said that she had to develop a different personality when she first started her career.

"I found as a real estate broker that people really respond to how you look--especially in a town like New York," Corcoran said. "If you act and look successful, people will make the wrongful assumption that you are."

That was a lesson, she said, that she stumbled upon by accident during the first real estate recession she experienced. On a whim, a desperate Corcoran totaled up all the sales that she made that year, found the average apartment price, typed up the results, labeled the document "The Corcoran Report," and mailed it to The New York Times.

"I didn't expect anything good. I didn't expect anything bad. I was just trying everything," Corcoran said. Shortly after, she opened up the newspaper and saw that her off-the-cuff report made the front page of the real estate section. It was a turning point for The Corcoran Group and changed the way she did business.

"If you want to be a somebody or you want to grab a market that you didn't have before or you want to look bigger than you are--go brag about it before you have it," Corcoran said. "Its not illegal. I have used that technique again and again and again on anything I have wanted."

There are two kinds of people in business, and you need them both

When Corcoran first met Esther Kaplan, she knew that Kaplan was her exact opposite--and Corcoran realized that was exactly what her real estate business needed. Kaplan eventually became a 10 percent partner in the Corcoran Group and handled everything that Corcoran didn't want to do, such as cash projections and insurance. She also balanced Corcoran's bold style. Corcoran continued to try to replicate that balance whenever she brought on new employees.

"For every single position I ever hired for, I learned to ignore the résumé when they were sitting at my desk and to focus on whether they were a container or an expander. Do they like to bullshit, get out there, and try anything--[are they] not risk-averse? Or were they the type that likes to create order out of chaos, control things, bring it in?" Corcoran said. "Esther was an extreme container. I was an extreme expander. I always coupled [those types] together. I wouldn't hire one without the other. They take care of each other."

Fun is good for business

"I use the fun card to build my business as much as I use publicity," Corcoran said. "What I found by creating a fun culture is that no one ever left our company. They loved being there." She says she spread the word of the fun culture by throwing parties with unique themes or putting on other quirky events, and it became the most effective recruiting tool the company had. 

The better you are at failing, the more you succeed

"I found after a lot of trial and error that there really was only one difference between the phenomenal salespeople and the people who just got by," Corcoran said. "The difference was not their education, not their contacts that helped in the beginning, not how hard they worked--[it] was that when they took a hit, the superstars took a lot less time to feel sorry for themselves."

Corcoran added that over the years, the most common reason she fired employees was for an inability to bounce back from failure. She found that, in an interview, the best thing to focus on was the negative experiences candidates had to determine how they respond to failure. "I learned that in my business, the reason that I succeed is because I am so good at failure," she said.

IMAGE: Redux
Last updated: Apr 25, 2014

ABIGAIL TRACY

Abigail Tracy is a staff reporter for Inc. magazine. Previously, she worked for Seattle Metropolitan magazine and Chicago magazine.




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