Barbara Corcoran’s Unconventional Wisdom

The reality TV star and queen of Manhattan real estate shares her insights on success.

Full disclosure: We’re obsessed with Shark Tank around here. So when our favorite shark, real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, gave the kick-off speech at Westchester Community College’s GROW 2.0 entrepreneurial conference in Valhalla last month, we snagged some extra time to chat with her. 

Corcoran, who also frequents Larchmont and New Rochelle to visit her two BFFs (one is top Westchester realtor Liz Sauer), has a classic rags-to-riches story: The dyslexic “charity D student” grew up as one of 10 children in a two-bedroom home in Edgewater, New Jersey, and, using a $1,000 loan from a boyfriend, built the largest real estate firm in Manhattan, which she sold for a whopping $66 million in 2001. 

Now, The Corcoran Group founder dispenses her fast-talking, tell-it-like-it-is entrepreneurial wisdom to the masses on ABC’s hit reality show, and as the Today real estate expert. She’s funny, engaging, and irreverent, and our conversation confirmed that there is nothing by-the-book about Corcoran—and that’s just how she likes it. To emulate her success, take a page from her playbook, and think unconventionally:

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Fear Risk. Then Get Over It. “I wasn’t afraid to take risks when I first started my company—I was too stupid to know any better. Once you become successful, you have your reputation to protect and you are responsible for peoples’ livelihoods, so you start to get scared. But I learned to force myself to take the leap even when I was scared, and I got better and better at that.”

Embrace Your Mistakes. “When I was building my business, all my worst mistakes wound up being goldmines. Whenever some really big thing went wrong, recovering from it—trying to save face or trying to hide the mistake—taught me something new.”

Intelligence is Overrated. “The worst entrepreneur is the conservative one who over-analyzes everything. You need to be dumb enough that when someone knocks you down over and over, you stand back up and try again.”

Break the Mold. “Trying to fit in was my biggest mistake. For a while, I had my hair done every week because [the women from] the big companies in town with the expensive listings all had puffy hair. I was afraid to wash my hair until my next beauty appointment. What a waste of time!” 

Don’t Obsess About Your Competition. “I went through a period where I put every stat having to do with my competitors on a chart and measured everything constantly because I wanted to win the game of being the biggest. And for one whole year, [the firm] never grew because I was so busy watching the next guy. What a stupid idea! I threw out those charts and then I got going again.”

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Flaunt Your Assets. “If I walked into a room of the 10 largest real estate agencies in New York City, all owned by men in expensive business suits, I made sure to wear my red suit with a short skirt because I had great legs. And even if they didn’t want to introduce themselves to me or give me the time of day, I stood apart from the pack.”

Take Advantage of Your Advantages. “When you’re a woman building a small business, men don’t think of you as their competitor or their enemy—and what an advantage to have that camouflage on your side! You can come up from behind while no one is watching.”

Dismiss Passion. “Every single person on Shark Tank thinks if they are passionate enough [about their business idea], they will succeed, so I purposely take that and put it out of my head. They are in a love affair with the new business. And it can’t last. I’m trying to pick someone who is going to make it to the finish line.”

Sometimes, You Can’t Have It All. “The minute I gave birth to Tommy (when I was 46), I had sibling rivalry in my heart every day. I had my Corcoran Group family, which I loved and would kill for, and now I had Tommy, who I loved and would kill for as well. It is impossible to put 150 percent effort into building a big business, and 150 percent effort into building a great family—you just can’t do it. Something is gonna give.”

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