Sales And Innovation Secrets From The Queen Of New York Real Estate

By: Braintek | Published 10/10/2023


Barbara Corcoran can still remember many of the sweat-inducing moments in her climb to becoming the Queen of New York Real Estate. Business leaders looked to her as someone with a mind for sales-focused growth and innovation, while Corcoran claims she used childhood lessons from her Irish-Catholic parents and a competitive spirit spurred on by insults and undiagnosed dyslexia to push herself to innovative ideas that would serve as her lifeline.

Whatever the case, something worked for the self-made millionaire who transformed herself from waitress to business powerhouse.

Corcoran has faced many recessions during her decades-long rise to the top of New York City’s real estate market, and whenever the challenges seemed unrelenting, she always had an idea to surge her company, Corcoran Group, forward.

Says Corcoran: “I don’t think you can sharpshoot in business. I think you have to throw a heck of a lot on the wall and see what sticks. If we could all sharpshoot, we could all be geniuses. A lot of stuff didn’t stick, [but] I was willing to keep going and going.”

Her success was founded in the roots of her family’s small home, where she shared a room with her five sisters. Later, it was ignited by a former business partner turned ex-boyfriend. With many dips in the market, Barbara still managed to sell Corcoran Group for $66 million, and she continues her business ventures through ABC’s “Shark Tank.” Corcoran has invested in more than 80 businesses, books and talk shows, and she gladly shares her expertise with fledgling entrepreneurs whose shoes she once shakily stood in.

Corcoran recently discussed her climb. From a communal sock drawer with her siblings to a $10-million penthouse overlooking the very home she grew up in and the city she dominated, she shares her secrets with readers.

Corcoran’s unique sales tactics and “throw everything at the wall” attitude positioned her real estate company in the best spot for a future acquisition, and her legacy continues with the group’s ever-expanding national influence. For business owners and leaders in need of a jump-start for their sales team and a foundation on which to build a legacy, Corcoran’s experiences and expertise can serve as a guide to lasting success.


As her class took turns reading aloud, Corcoran could feel the pit in her stomach grow. She was just a kid, but it seemed like everyone else her age knew how to read. It was like deciphering a code for Corcoran,  who was called “stupid” by one of the nuns at her Catholic school in seventh grade because she couldn’t read.

Later, Corcoran was diagnosed with dyslexia, but in school, she maintained a D- average and mastered observation. Bubbly and expressive, Corcoran has always had a way with people, and she used these skills to learn about her surroundings and watch to see if people noticed she was struggling to read. She didn’t want to face humiliation yet again for her academic troubles.

After high school, Corcoran earned her teaching degree, but after one year, she found herself bouncing from job to job. By the time she was waitressing at a diner, she was on her 20th job at just 23 years old.

Waitressing energized Corcoran, who is a people person, but in a job that’s all about getting tips, she was losing. Her competition was the Dolly Parton-type, whose large breasts attracted men and increased tips. Feeling defeated, Corcoran thought her self-described “plain” look could never compete. Then, her mom gave Corcoran her first lesson in marketing.

Says Corcoran: “My mom said, ‘Why don’t you braid your hair and put red bows in to match your  uniform.’ And I did, and son of a gun, that was exactly the night that Ramone Simone walked in and offered me a ride home.”

Simone and Corcoran immediately hit it off, and for the next seven years, the duo dipped into the New York City real estate market and became romantically involved. Simone was the first one to suggest that Corcoran try real estate, noting her uncanny ability to relate to nearly everyone she met. Simone urged Corcoran further, even going so far as to give her the $1,000 she needed to start her own agency.

As a girl from New Jersey suddenly competing in one of the world’s most famous cities, Corcoran was in a league she had never experienced before.

Says Corcoran: “I got set free outside the diner, and I schmoozed people all day. I really enjoyed people … I was just very energetic, showed them a lot, and talked all the time. I did very well in sales.”

But her fatal flaw, Corcoran now admits, was crediting Simone with the success she was building. In her mind, Simone had rescued her from her blue-collar life and ushered her into the glitzy world of New York City. He had even given her $100 to spend on a “real New York outfit.” She had never had new clothes in her life and readily ate up the chance.


One night, Simone approached Corcoran as she was making pasta for his children and explained that he was going to marry her secretary. Just as quickly as she had been noticed by Simone in the diner, she was dropped. This time, Simone had no idea what kind of firestorm he was creating.

When Corcoran demanded Simone fire the secretary, he reminded her that he owned 51% of the company and wouldn’t do that. One year later, Corcoran marched into Simone’s office and announced that their partnership was over. She demanded they split the company in half because she was starting her own firm. Corcoran had no idea where she was going to go. She had no office, no tools and no leads. She just knew she was done at Corcoran-Simone.

Corcoran called the landlord leasing their current building and asked if he had any available spaces for a new office and crew. He did — three floors above Corcoran-Simone. She leaped at the chance, satisfied to know that she could be just floors above the man who had sparked her determination.

As Corcoran left the office, Simone stopped her.

“[He] was rightfully very surprised I had ended a business [relationship] with no notice,” Corcoran recalled. “And he said, ‘You know, Barbara, you’ll never succeed without me.’”

Corcoran merely smiled. She would be damned if that was going to be true, and unbeknownst to him, Simone only pushed her to do more. She was going to succeed, and when recessions hit, Simone’s words rang in her head, giving her strength.

She was determined to succeed because he had labeled her a failure. The nuns at her school had labeled her a failure too. Later, the real estate boys’ club in New York would label her a failure.

Yet, Corcoran rose to success. It all started with marketing advice from her mom, an insult from the man who pulled her from the diner and the persistence inside of her that would not let her quit.


Finding the right salespeople has been at the forefront of Corcoran’s success, and she’s become a magnet for the best. However, she didn’t build a $66-million company by only recruiting from top business schools or other firms. She considered everyone for her firm. Coffee shops, social gatherings and shopping visits became job interviews for Corcoran.

The best salesperson Corcoran ever had was plucked from her job as an airline attendant at American Airlines. Corcoran’s business partner, Esther Kaplan, was never meant for sales, yet she ensured that Corcoran’s spending habits and ability to “throw anything” she could at the wall didn’t sink the company.

It wasn’t always this easy. Corcoran’s rise took time, mistakes and some wrong hires on the path to finding the right formula. Corcoran soon learned that the people with all the right credentials weren’t always the ones propelling sales forward and becoming top agents. Instead, it was those who could sell themselves straight to Corcoran, even as she was flinging insults their way.

“I studied my salespeople my whole life,” Corcoran said. “I discovered a method. It’s called ‘insult them.’ Tell them that you don’t think they have what it takes and here’s why, and then shut your mouth up and see what they do with that.”

What the candidate would say next became very important to Corcoran, and she listened with her gut. Some would come out of the gate, claiming to have grit and a belief in themselves that they could sell. But it never meshed, Corcoran explained. Others took the insult personally and twisted it back around onto Corcoran. They proved to her that they not only had the determination she was looking for but that they also couldn’t believe what she was saying. Those were the salespeople she hired and the superstars who pushed Corcoran Group to its success. In them, Corcoran could see someone who wouldn’t quit, even when they were knocked down.

Says Corcoran: “I found when they take a hit—sales is a lot about taking a hit—they simply felt sorry for themselves, but they took less time to feel sorry for themselves. It’s almost as if their IQ was low enough where they got back up. Intelligence would say lay low and lick your wounds.”

For Corcoran, a great sales force is told through numbers, but the qualities that make up that force can be found in the failures. Much like the insult hurled at her decades ago, Corcoran believes that times of adversity are when salespeople should show up the most, and finding the right people for that job goes beyond schooling and experience. It’s a feeling found deep in the moment of crisis.

Today, Corcoran uses that same philosophy with the entrepreneurs she supports and funds through Shark Tank.” Says Corcoran: “I wait until they get their first bad hit, and I want to be on the line to hear what they do. The minute I hear, ‘It wasn’t my fault. That guy promised me … ’Anything that smells like that—I have all my entrepreneurs hanging on a matted frame on my wall—and I walk over and turn them upside down. I remind myself to never spend any more time with them. They’re not going to make it.”

Building a successful business—one that can withstand mergers, acquisitions, recessions and even  insults — doesn’t require employees who are prestigiously educated or have worked as salespeople their entire lives. Businesses require much more fundamental support through employees that can think with their gut, move on quickly and build strong foundations.


After years of following this sales model, Corcoran sold Corcoran Group for $66 million. At certain points, there were offers hitting well below that. These moments were often when there appeared to be no other way out of the chokehold than to sell.

That’s when Corcoran listened to her own advice —Simone’s insult—and persevered more.

At one point, Corcoran was sitting on a $300,000 debt to Citibank and a credit line she couldn’t pay,  contemplating how Corcoran Group was going to climb itself out of the recession it was drowning in. Housing interest rates had climbed to 19 percent, and the market was cold. No one was going to dip their toes in that pool, no matter how good the price appeared.

Then, the walls closed in further. An insurance company called her with 88 apartment units that had been on the market for more than two years, and after numerous brokers, they just needed someone to sell the units. It was another blow to Barbara’s dwindling options.

“They were the dogs of the market. No kitchens, no baths,” Barbara recalled of the seemingly useless dump that had suddenly landed on her lap. “I said, ‘Nobody is going to buy this, I hate to tell you.’”

She knew that they had heard it before, but like Corcoran, the insurance company was desperate to push the units off their books.

That night, Corcoran met with Kaplan. Organized and numbers-focused, Kaplan was the calm in Corcoran’s energetic and risky business plan. That night, Kaplan and Corcoran debated closing. The funds they had left were far too small to pay off their debts, but those 88 units kept ringing in Corcoran’s head. She had been in a tight spot before. Corcoran’s style of spending money once it was in the door sometimes worked and sometimes left her scrambling. She had always found her way out, and now, something about those 88 units was beckoning to her.

Corcoran’s mind flashed to a seemingly mundane memory from her childhood. As the second oldest of 10 children in a two-bedroom house in New Jersey, Corcoran didn’t grow up in luxury. Her father was fired nearly every year for insubordination, while her mother was a meticulous planner with a gift for bringing out the best in each of her children. That memory landed Barbara on her grandfather’s farm, where, just across the street, a neighbor was selling Jack Russell terrier puppies.

Sleek new vehicles pulled up on the remote road one by one as women in furs and dripping in money stepped out. Corcoran watched with fascination. She had never seen such riches in her neighborhood. Hand-me-downs comprised her wardrobe, and the only vacation the family took was to Atlantic City after her father had received $1,000 from a three-month business venture.

“When he got his $1,000 check, I remember the excitement of my father being in business for himself. Like John Wayne himself, he’d pass that $1,000 check around the table at dinner,” Corcoran recalled. “Spending that money in that whole week … It was like the best memory in our whole life.”

Back on the farm, while she and her siblings were watching the lives of the rich and famous on parade, Corcoran overheard her mother compliment their neighbor, Louise, on her ingenuity. Louise knew she only had so many puppies, but she also knew the value of her puppies. If she invited more rich families than she had puppies for to her farm, she would find homes for the little pups in just one day. For the rich families, the mass attraction and desire to be one of the families who purchased the puppies was far greater than ensuring they got a good deal.

Back in her office in New York City, while contemplating shutting her doors for good, Corcoran’s last-minute play came to her head. The 88 apartment units were her puppies. She just needed to find her clientele.

Corcoran hosted a “secret sale” of the units, where 200-300 people showed up to look at and possibly purchase the 88 units. Even with housing interest rates at 19 percent and battered apartment units on the market, Corcoran Group sold every single unit and raked in $1.3 million in commission. Corcoran paid off Citibank, paid her outstanding debts and used the remaining $600,000 to open a new office.

The queen was back.

“I have found that is my gift every time,” Corcoran said. “I see some advantages that I could run right up the damn flagpole.

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