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

In terms of attitude then, failure is all part of the bundle of success.

It’s the most important part. You could get a brilliant person who has an idea a minute and most of them good – which rarely happens honestly – but if they can’t handle the failure, they won’t be back out there trying the next thing. It’s too hurtful. Did you ever hear the expression, I heard it years ago and I thought it was so cute it stayed with me, “Asking the girl is the easy part. Walking back to the chair is hard.”  Can you picture that little man stepping out to ask the next girl to dance? It’s really brave, it’s the easy part. But walking back without the girl, that’s hard.

So honestly, with my sales staff, the ability to fail well was the only point of differentiation between those people who did well and those who did not. I’m telling you, I studied my salespeople all those years. They had different styles, different contacts, different ways of coming at the business as well as into the business. But the truth is that the superstars all had the same ability to get up fast. They moaned and groaned, but just for a minute, and they were back up. The people who moaned their way right out of the business were usually the worst people. Moaned and groaned how bad it was, “Oh my god!  Did that hurt!  Ouch!  Ouch!  Ouch!”  They’re talking about the “ouch, ouch, ouch” on and on and on. Forget it! They took too long feeling sorry for themselves and they just missed the next three sales.

Whereas the winners, they certainly felt the hit like everybody else, but they only gave themselves a minute to lay low and then bounce back up. That’s a great gift to have. I think that comes from optimism and confidence that probably you get in the home front, certainly more than anything I could give them. They either came in with it or not and I was not able to nurture that as a trait. That was definitely a trait someone either had or hadn’t. I think people got better at it because I publicised the failures so well, but I don’t think you could teach people to not injure deep. Some people just injure deep.

It sounds as though you had a winning formula for keeping your staff happy. Did you find then that the word got out and people wanted to come and work for you?

Not initially, not for the first 15 years. In fact, frankly, many of the things we did, we were ridiculed for because they were different from the norm. We had too much fun. People called us the “Corc-ettes.”  The sophisticated, old-boy network firms thought we were like a born again Christian group or something because we were happy and liking each other. But the laughing stopped once we were blowing by them. And once we were among the two or three most successful firms, they thought we had the magic juice. Everybody wanted to emulate what we were doing. So people started doing PR; people started having parties; people started trying to be silly. Then we were able to really pirate the best people – not all of them but many of the best people – right out of our competitors’ firms. Because why would you want to work somewhere and be super successful, if the place itself was boring?  If instead you could be super successful and work in a place where everybody’s smiling all the time? Where would you go?  So it became obvious because my best advertisements of all, my own salespeople, were out walking and talking in the field. It’s not like we could keep it secret. The minute they went out the door, everybody who saw them just got it.

So when you were growing up as one of 10 children and sharing a bedroom with your sisters – you were sharing socks from a communal drawer – did you ever imagine you’d be where you are today?

No, nobody knows where they’re going. No, not at all. I never had a thought.

When you imagined your future, what did you think it would hold?

All I knew was I didn’t want to get married and have a baby at 18, which was the norm in my town. That was pretty easy for me because I never had a boyfriend and you need a boyfriend to imagine yourself having a baby and being like everybody else. For some reason, I just never got a boyfriend – I think I got my first boyfriend at 17. By then, I was only a year away from when most girls were announcing who they’re marrying. No, I only knew what I didn’t want to do. I knew I didn’t want to get married and have a baby, but I had no idea what I wanted to do.

There are lots of horror stories about real estate in the news at the moment. What is your take on this?

I probably sound like a real estate broker, which I am through and through, but I think real estate can never be judged short-term. This is one of the worst real estate bouts we’ve had or real estate flus or bubble bursting or whatever. Of course, the real culprit is over-leverage on the part of people who couldn’t afford it and the real villain here is probably, more than anyone else, the mortgage brokers and the banks who sold a bill of goods to people who really didn’t understand the details. They were all told the big lie – the biggest lie in the industry – which is “You can always refinance.”  But needless to say, when prices dumped down by 35%, people couldn’t refinance. They couldn’t get out, they couldn’t sell. It proved a house of cards. That was at the root of it.

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.