The science behind team building with Barbara Corcoran
By Amber Snider
When it comes to start-up businesses, there is one thing that can either make or break the company: the team you hire. “The most important rule for a real estate broker/owner building a business is recruiting talent,” Barbara Corcoran tells Metropolitan Magazine. Weighing the pros and cons of potential team members is a necessity in the hiring process, especially when everyone has different skill sets. Some of these skill sets are apparent at the onset, but others need to be nourished and revealed over time. “There’s nothing else in brokerage but the people talent, or lack of it. And that’s why my firm did well,” she says. So what else does a real estate mogul and billon-dollar entrepreneur have to say about hiring the right people—or more specifically, in investing in the right people?
Business instinct comes in handy in virtually every social exchange: “A lot of people, with all the knowledge in the world in their industry, will inevitably, and I know because I’ve invested in a few of them, pick the wrong multiple choices. [Success] mainly depends on whether or not they have the “it” factor: I work with enough entrepreneurs from Shark Tank now to smell it a mile away—whether they got it or they don’t. And it’s a death knell for their business when they don’t.” Operating from the gut, or on instinct, is something that comes more naturally to women than to men, according to Corcoran. ” I never let logic interfere. When I had a resume on my desk, I didn’t read it when I interviewed. I just wanted to tune into them,” she says. And yet, even when a person has that spark, there must also be a drive to action—a firm desire to act in the moment and beyond, transforming abstract ideas into something tangible and concrete. It is one thing to dream big, but another to go after it and actually execute the ideas.
A supervisor, independent entrepreneur, or manager of any kind should be able to see, not only the spark in others, but also their story and how they can fit into the overall scheme of the business. “When I’m on the set of Shark Tank, and seeing the entrepreneurs for the first time, they’re already a movie in my mind. I’m not thinking about what their business is, what they’re pitching…I’m [thinking] ‘are they going to make air?’ And I only want to buy the people that make air—and I have never bought into anyone who didn’t make air. I just have that innate ability to know when somebody’s good, immediately, in a visual sense or not,” she says. Essentially, having the right people on your team comes down to visualization and seeing the story within a person (see previous issue of Metropolitan).
The right candidate should (and keep this in mind if you want to pitch something to Barbara Corcoran) have the desire to get where they want to go, have the ability to take a hit and bounce back, and have a combined gene, or balance, of aggressiveness and flexibility.
“The biggest misleader in the world, on anything, is money.”
Another prime factor is seeking out people who are able “to create solutions that are people smart. Without the people skill, you’re not going to think of the best solution.” This ability to think of creative solutions is nothing without the people factor, just as the people factor alone will “get you nowhere other than make you friends. And let’s face it, we’re not just here to make friends,” she says.
Corcoran believes in building egalitarian relationships first and foremost, even if a little strategic charming is involved. “I did a corporate number on them, I made them love me and I made them love each other. Do you know how much they help each other, and what an asset that is?” she tells Metropolitan. And she adds an interesting caveat to this: she hires people who are similar to herself. “All my entrepreneurs are very much like me. It’s not that I love people like me, but it’s a business answer…and do you know how loyalty becomes when building a business when you hit hard times? Tremendously!” First know your industry, and then get to know the people within it.
Even with the “it” factor and the drive to action, the importance of strategic communication can never be overvalued. Being able to express your business needs and work well with new or existing hires ultimately depends on communication. Corcoran tells us: “I think my communication skill is absolutely my best skill, because I can communicate with anyone and feel one-on-one with them and equal. If you want to be a great communicator you really have to be a great equalizer.” Part of this communicating means recognizing other peoples’ gifts and seeing how they fit into the overall scheme of your vision. In order to recognize a new hire’s talents, one must first be on equal footing with them—only then will their talents become apparent and accessible.
We’ve all heard the mantra “never judge a man before you walk two moons in his shoes.” While this is true, how does one go from “judging” to the “knowing”? Corcoran genuinely wants to understand her entrepreneurs, and while she uses all of her faculties to do so, she mainly relies on and trusts her intuition. “If you’re operating totally from your softer side, which is your innate ability, not to analyze but trust your emotions and run with it, you will communicate well and [end up] in the next guy’s shoes automatically.” She tells us several anecdotes about her business trips and book signings, amounting to endless interactions with new people. During these exchanges, she has the innate ability to both inspire people through her communication and read their needs and gifts, almost like “a fortune teller.” And yes, she reads tarot cards like a pro too, she tells Metropolitan.
Intellectual and social play is also a part of an effective communication strategy. Barbara Corcoran gives us an analogy of a child in the playground with a ball—garnering attention through play. During a long day of introductions at a book signing, Corcoran turned to “play” as the great equalizer: “I was on everybody’s playing field, their playing field, communicating with them without thinking about it and just making everybody laugh, and me laughing too.” And then she brings it full circle with this statement: “[My success] came from my desire to play.”
But there is still the question of social differences, including gender. How does gender and sexuality come into play in the scheme of financial success? When asked about the challenges of gender in the high-stakes business world and how it effects talent acquisition, she re-plies: “I was always gender blind.” For her, so many of our differences have nothing to do with gender, but the way we’re wired. She does admit she was more inspirational as “a female to a female, or to a gay man…rather than a guy in a suit.” And interestingly, she acknowledges the perks of using a little sexuality in order to gain an advantage. “I was probably in business fifteen or twenty years before I realized it was advantageous for me to wear a short skirt and flaunt my legs, because it’s the best part of my body.
“Equality, like friendship, in business or outside of business, is the best means of communication.”
I have the breasts, but I didn’t necessarily have a model’s face or anything, or beautiful silky hair—but I had great legs. And I realized that if I wore a skirt above my knee, or if I wore a skirt versus pants, that all the men would turn their head and I got attention right away. So it was at that time I realized I had an advantage being female.” And she continues: “I started wearing bright colors, I started wearing skirts. And why not? Maybe people might say it’s a little bit prostitutional, but I never lifted my skirts, I just made sure they were above my knee.”
She also points out three categorical trends found within the highest ranking salespeople: “[Regarding] the sales force, I can certainly tell you someone with an accent, male or female, sold best as a group. Secondly, gay men are the second best group. Thirdly, beautiful, beautiful women are my third bestselling group. I mean, this is categorizing with broad strokes, but everybody likes to be around handsome men or beautiful women. People say the book cover doesn’t make a difference, and in sales they’re out of their mind— it definitely makes a big difference—unless the women were too pretty, and then the wives hated them. See, you needed a certain pretty, but not too pretty! And of course, last, which was the majority of the firm, decently attractive women, 75% of the sales force. But those mini groups had a leg up, certainly, having to do with sex and presentation, without a doubt.”
But aside from differences in gender, background, or presentation, being relatable was the real key to Corcoran’s success: “I was easily able to motivate and inspire. They followed my lead because they related to me. And is that a female trait? Probably not, probably just a people trait, right?”