Warm-blooded shark Barbara Corcoran is swimming in so much wisdom that it seems only fitting to follow up her initial business insights with a second round of advice. Don’t believe us? Just ask, well, her. “I’ve always envisioned myself like the Pope, with people kissing my ring and coming to me for my blessing,” Barbara confides. “But you know what? For someone like me, that was a powerful business plan. There’s so much emphasis on education these days, but I’m much more of a believer in having a dream or vision of yourself.” Barbara argues that a high self-concept translates into a deeper emotional investment and, ultimately, a greater level of success. “The #1 reason to be in business is to be your own boss—to decide everything from the wall color to the business cards,” she asserts. “Make your world exactly how you want it to be, and you’ll become tremendously interested in what you do. It’s about as close as you can get to playing God.”
In fact, Barbara’s description of the entire entrepreneurial process is more labor-of-love than five-year-plan. “I started my business before I started a family, so I only served one baby,” she recalls. “I didn’t have any sibling rivalry.” Though Barbara acknowledges that her decision to postpone motherhood was a contributing factor toward her success, the idea of family has always informed her desired atmosphere at work. “I had a vision of how happy we were all going to be—the beautiful offices, the foot rubs that would happen every Tuesday and Thursday, the manicure guy that would come through the office,” she waxes decadently. “It sounds ridiculous to spend money I didn’t even have at the time on stupid, soft things like a health spa, but I wanted to have a happy family.” Once actualized, Barbara’s grandiose vision translated into a hard-hitting business strategy in its own right. “No one left!” she exclaims. “I didn’t have any retention problems.”
When a more traditional family life came along, Barbara became conflicted by the warring demands of work and motherhood. Her solution involved letting go of what she calls the “fairy tale” of balance. “I replaced it with dividing lines—walls between my business and my family,” she explains. “If I’m at work, I’m so hyper-focused that I’m not thinking about my kids or anything I’m going to do at home. But once I walk out that door at 4pm, boom! I’m hyper-focused on my family. I’m not checking emails. I’m turning off my phone. The office could burn down and nobody would dare call me.” Barbara credits this separation with her ability to maintain both her efficiency and her sanity. “If I didn’t think this way, I would be ineffective on both fronts,” she insists. Her loved ones, however, have found ways to beat the system. “If my husband wants to reach me at work, he always says he’s calling from The New York Times,” Barbara reveals. “He disguises his voice, and he gets right through to me.” Sounds like a man who knows who he’s dealing with.
On the subject of girls versus boys, Barbara has noticed a pointed disparity in male and female approaches toward business. “Women come in sizing up the individual long before the opportunity,” she articulates. “They run a quick analysis in their heads: Do I like this person? Do I trust this person? Does this person know what they’re talking about? How can I use them best? Women approach business from the person out, and men approach business from the business out.” Barbara defends the former approach, citing the changeability of any given proposal as a case for prioritizing the relationship behind it. “I know I can reinvent a business,” she says breezily. “But you can’t rebuild a person.”
Indeed, Barbara’s favorite ventures on Shark Tank have all been defined as such by personalities rather than profit margins. Among her fondest investments, she names Tiffany Krumins’ Ava the Elephant medicine dispenser for children afflicted with AIDS (“invented from the heart”), Kim Daisy’s DaisyCakes mail-order bakery (“I got my investment back in two weeks, and they’re the most delicious cakes in America. Don’t order one unless you want to pork out”), and Fleetwood Hick’s Villy Custom Bikes (“like working with an artist. I feel like I have my own Van Gogh in my business lineup”). Whether she’s dealing with bikes or bakeries, however, Barbara will take a determined spirit over a diploma any day. “Less information and more courage gets you much further in business,” she declares simply. Spoken like a shark with a well-honed plan of attack.
—Emma Aubry Roberts