Barbara Corcoran – How this D Student Went From Waitress to Running a Billion Dollar Property Empire

So that lasted for about a year and a half and Tina moved into my desk in his office, because we shared an office, and I sat on the outside. I wish I had a good story to tell you about why I decided to end it: I really have no idea why I did it, why it took so long or what came into my head. Just one day I said: “I’m not doing this any more”. So I walked in and announced that we were ending the partnership.

The way we did it was just like a football draw in America. He picked the first person – we had 14 salespeople at the time, so we had a tiny but still successful brokerage firm. We had 14 happy salespeople and it was really like breaking up a marriage. They thought of us as Mom and Dad in a way, even though most of the people in that company were older than me by far, but we were the parents and they were the kids. So we divided them into groups of seven. Then I said: “You decide to stay or you could go,” and he said, “I’ll stay.”  So he stayed. Then I said: “You can take the phone number or get a new one.”  He said: “I’ll take the old number, you get a new one.”  So I moved my seven people out at the end of that work-week and that was the beginning of Corcoran Group.

So actually, what seemed like bad luck at the time turned out to be a brilliant move?

Easy to say in hindsight.

Yes, as things always are.

It’s always bad when it’s bad. It only gets good with time. But thank God for those departures on the road. They make all the difference in life.

So these must have been very difficult and traumatic times?

Do you know why it’s so?  If you think about it, I always felt that Ramóne (or Ray as I now call him) found me in a little town where no one could find me. He gave me a shot at the big city. He gave me my confidence. He said he thought I would be great at something – nobody had ever said that before – and he thought I was young and beautiful and capable. So everything associated with him to that point was very positive. Because I had come out of a school system where I was a terrible student, and I hadn’t really had success in that environment, I felt suddenly successful.

So of course, when that boat pulls out, you wonder if you’re going to sink and I was convinced I couldn’t float without him. But as it turned out, I found I was pretty adaptable. If you swim hard enough, you not only float but you actually can move faster. I started swimming for my life, as I had never done before. Like most good deeds that you put a lot of energy into, they generally pay off. So the business started getting built little by little, and then the rest was just building mass and productivity and hiring the right people, etc., – things that everybody does when building a business.

You mentioned that no one had ever said you were great before and that you had little success in school. Where did you get your self-belief from?

From my mother. I probably misrepresent myself saying no one had ever. I had a mom who told me almost daily that I was almost a genius. She always said I was creative. She labelled me as creative and she said that I could figure anything out. Even when I had that dreaded day, (in third grade I guess it was) where I was told by the nun-from-hell that I was stupid, my mother’s way of handling it that day was to say: “Don’t worry about it.”  She said: “You have a wonderful imagination and you’ll learn to fill in all the blanks.”  So she dismissed it as though as it was totally unimportant. Of course, as a kid in a classroom where kids are judged by school grades and how well you do in that very narrow definition of intelligence, it was a big deal. But in my mother’s mind it was just a small point, because she knew I had a great imagination and that was my forté. So I had constant positive reinforcement at home just like I had negative reinforcement in school. So thank God for that, it certainly offset it. So even though I felt like a failure at school, clearly, day in and day out, I felt very successful at home with my siblings and my mother.

Over the next 25 years, you grew that loan of $1,000 into a billion dollar business – and eventually sold it for $70 million

I actually sold the business for $66 million. I don’t know, everybody always says $70 million. I don’t know where that came from, but it’s actually $66 million because that was my lucky number and that’s how I arrived at the sale price. I just gave them my lucky number. They didn’t know how I arrived at it. They went crazy with their accountants and attorneys trying to justify it, thinking there was some rhyme or reason, but I was laughing on the inside. But I missed your question.

Yes, basically, how did you manage to do that?

That’s a huge question of course, a million details that somehow come together. A lot of mistakes that somehow you get away with. I would say piles of both: good judgements and bad judgements, but a lot of effort. I think that’s true of most people who do well in anything, they put in an inordinate amount of effort and I certainly did that. I’d been working seven days a week. I worked since I was 11. I worked after school every day; I worked every summer. But when I was in my own business I was in work at like 7:10am usually at my desk, out showing properties by 9am and I finished up my paperwork probably every night by 11pm. I lived for my work. That’s all I did is work.

Stephanie J. Hale

Stephanie J. Hale is award-winning author of 9 books including 'Millionaire Women, Millionaire You', "Celebrity Authors' Secrets' and 'Millionaire Author'.

She is a former BBC and IRN news reader, who now specialises in helping celebrities and public figures to write and publish books.