She floundered through her education, earning straight D’s all through high school and college. By the time she turned 23, she’d already had 20 different jobs. Barbara Corcoran was looking at a life of financial struggle and the futile chase of success.
But then, she started her next job and everything changed. This is the story of the small-town girl who turned a $1,000 loan into a real estate company worth $5 billion.
The early years
Corcoran grew up in Edgewater, N.J., the second-oldest of 10 children. Her father worked as a printing-press foreman and her mother was a housewife. She struggled through school, and in 1971, she graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas College before setting out to earn a living.
While working as a server shortly after graduating, Corcoran met New Jersey-based home builder Ray Simone. The two began dating, and soon after, Simone lent Corcoran $1,000 to establish her own business. The couple then founded Corcoran-Simone, an apartment locator service in New York City. The girl from Edgewater who’d struggled through school was now a business owner.
Building a business
The couple worked out a fair agreement, with Simone owning 51 percent of the company and Corcoran acting as the agent dealing directly with clients. One day, Corcoran was showing a rental to an engineer who decided to buy the unit instead of renting it. The $3,000 commission earned from the sale was too great a reward to ignore. The next day, Corcoran decided to shift the firm’s focus to sales. She posted an ad for a sales agent immediately.
The young company was soon on the path to explosive success using a simple business plan: Every time Corcoran earned $180, she used the money to post a 3-line ad in The New York Times for a new sales agent. Each new agent generated more money for the company, and within two years of its founding, Corcoran-Simone had a team of 14 agents while earning more than a half-million dollars in sales annually.
Everything was going smoothly until Simone broke up the relationship between the two owners and asked to divide the company. It took several years to complete the task, but in 1978 the job was done and Corcoran was on her own. As they parted, Simone told Corcoran she’d never be able to succeed without him. Instead of serving to discourage her, his words fueled her ambition. She was going to be a success, no matter what it would take.
At the time, the NYC real estate market was dominated by men, but that did not deter Corcoran. She’s been blessed with a fighting spirit and has never been afraid to fight convention. She wasted no time launching the Corcoran Group, the first female-owned real estate firm in the Big Apple. Within a year, the company was pulling in more than $350,000 in revenue.
A tough leader
Corcoran was a demanding leader. She handed the reins of everyday operations to her employees, and claims she didn’t even know what the firm’s revenue was, placing complete faith in her accountant. The Corcoran Group thrived.
Always the innovator, Corcoran started selling real estate online in 1993, a full two years before most competing agencies in the city. She also cleverly seized web domains that would likely be sought out by her competitors. This way, her rivals were forced to call her when they wanted to start selling on the internet, alerting her each time a competitor was entering the online market.
In 1988, Corcoran married her second husband, Bill Higgins. The couple wanted a child, and after eight years of fertility treatments, they welcomed a son, Tommy. It was a dream come true for the couple, but a game-changer for Corcoran.
In 2001, the Corcoran Group reached an impressive level of growth and had more listings in every category than any real estate firm in New York. Corcoran was now the top broker in the entire city. That was when she had her watershed moment. As she says, she realized she needed to be there 150% for her family at the Corcoran Group, while also being there 150% for Tommy. Since it was impossible to divide herself in two, Corcoran decided it was time to sell.
Corcoran continued to push herself forward until 2006, when she actively began seeking out a buyer. With a powerful sales force of 850 agents and annual revenues approaching $100 million, the Corcoran Group generated lots of interest from real estate firms in and around the city. At the time, New Jersey-based NRT, Inc. was aggressively buying up firms in New York, and Corcoran sought them out as her buyer. In a brilliant move, she hired an attorney who was also a member of NRT’s board of directors. The lawyer brought Corcoran an offer from NRT for $20 million, but she refused to sell at that price, saying she wouldn’t take less than $66 million. She claimed 66 is her lucky number and instructed the attorney not to get back to her unless he had found a buyer who agreed to her price. Just a few days later, a contract was signed.
The next stage
Today, Corcoran is a who’s who in business and her self-help books include the bestseller, Shark Tales: How I Turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business!. She has also become a motivational speaker and a popular TV personality, with regular roles on NBC’s Today Show, and on ABC’s hit Shark Tank, through which she has invested in 80 businesses to date. She also hosts her own business podcast, Business Unusual with Barbara Corcoran.
Corcoran openly talks about her academic struggles in school and the fight to get to the top. Her feisty attitude and fiery ambition continue to inspire women and business owners around the world.