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            Teleclass Notes

Barbara Corcoran
The Corcoran Group

Use What You've Got and Other Business Lessons I Learned From My Mom!
Carol Johnson
Barbara Corcoran

Carol Johnson

I would like to introduce Barbara Corcoran.    Barbara is the founder of The Corcoran Group, which has offices in all the best locations, in New York and Palm Beach.  Barbara sold her company to the NRT but the firm retained her name.

She has been such an inspiration to the Real Estate world.  With a thousand dollar investment she built a billion dollar office, one of only two that I know of in the whole industry, and a multi billion dollar firm.   

Barbara wrote a book called, Use What You've Got and Other Business Lessons I Learned From My Mom!  The paperback edition is called, If You Don't Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails. 

Barbara, you grew up in a home with nine siblings, you were dyslexic and you had to overcome some obstacles growing up.  But you took some life's lessons you learned from your mother and built a huge company.  Could you give us an overview of your interesting background? 

Barbara Corcoran I was a total failure in school.  My husband Bill feels that the reason I am so successful at work is because I am trying to prove to the world, that I am not stupid.  Even though we both laugh at this statement, I think there is great truth in that.  When I was feeling so negative during my school years, I had a mother at home that was a tremendous motivator.  My mother would decide on sight what she thought each gift was in everyone of her ten children.  My gift, I was told by my mother, was that I had a wonderful imagination.  I remember when I was in third or fourth grade I was told by the nun in school that if I didn't pay attention I would always be stupid.  I took that comment to heart, and when my mother received a call from the school she dismissed it.  She simply said, "Don't worry about it.  You have a wonderful imagination and with it you will learn to fill in all the blanks."  More than anything else I grew up with a powerful mother, who choose to underline the positive, in each of her children.  She ran a very happy household.  She would have been terrific in business but it would have been wasted.  It is much more powerful to instill these lessons in children.
Carol Johnson One story in your book that really fascinated me was, that when you were young, you wrote your name in huge letters on your neighbor's retaining wall, since then your skills in promotion and public relations have become legendary. 
Barbara Corcoran Looking back, I probably did belong in the public relations or advertising business.  Real Estate is all about PR and advertising.
Carol Johnson How important is visibility to a broker's ability to recruit and retain top producing agents.
Barbara Corcoran It is everything!  You have two choices as a manager.  One is to have some strength in your own ability and one or two great salespeople.  But generally you have to go through about 12 salespeople before you will be able to find two superstars.  If a manager can't self-promote, then he can't advertise for his own happy family.  He will be limited to what he accomplishes in his office because he doesn't have lots of people who want to join his office, and not enough desks to go around.  That is the objective.  That keeps an office lean and mean, it gets rid of the people that are not producing, and allows space for superstars to grow.
Carol Johnson When you were first starting out, how did you get that PR that you needed?
Barbara Corcoran The first publicity break I had was by accident.  I had no money for advertising - it was a really slow year.  I was trying to think of how I was going to get my name out.  I added up the 11 sales that I had for the year and divided it by 11, and simply typed next to it, "Average New York City Apartment".  I sent it out to everyone who wrote for the New York Times.  I was startled when one week later I opened up the real estate section and on the very front page, the headline was, "New York City Apartments Reach All Time Low of $58,400"  - which was based on my number.  No one had called to find out what it was based on.  They took my number and ran with it.  That was pure luck.  All of a sudden, I became the expert.

I learned that the quickest to get publicity, was by holding on to the tails of anything that was in the news.  So if it were a celebrity in the news, I would put out a press release.  For example, when Madonna was all over the news, shopping for an apartment, I put out a press release stating, "What Madonna would be looking for".  I then became a "broker to the stars", because people assumed that we had all the stars - which wasn't true, we just had the hopes to have the stars.  Statistics are the most powerful thing to put out to the press.  Put out a statistical report on anything - and you become the expert.   When someone reads your name quoted in the paper as being "The Source" in your marketplace, everybody believes that you are a genius.  I think of myself as a partner with the media.  Also, the small brokers have the corner on creativity because they don't have the big corporation to answer to.  You don't have to get every decision approved; you can take an idea a run with it. 

Carol Johnson When owners have built their successful business and then they begin to think of an exit strategy, maintaining the company name is usually important to them.  When you sold your company to the NRT, I believe you were the only company that kept the Cendant brand.  How did you negotiate keeping the name?
Barbara Corcoran I can't take credit for that.  I had suggested to the NRT that they do some market research before they decide on what to do with the name, and what they found was that they didn't want to touch our brand, they wanted to capitalize off of the name.  I really let them do their own thing.
Carol Johnson Do you think the NRT will want to use you brand for up-scale areas?
Barbara Corcoran Yes they are already doing that.  I think it would be smart to do that.
Carol Johnson What role will you play in that process?
Barbara Corcoran It will be the same role I am playing now - the Chairman of the company.  It is a really particular role to play, because it is very different than playing the role of the parent in charge of the child.  I try to approve of everything and smile genuinely and mind my own business.
Carol Johnson Your assistant described you as having "the spark".  That creativity, that spark can't be bottled.  Companies that have someone like you need to find away to keep the "cap off the bottle" to allow the creativity to continue to flow.
Barbara Corcoran It is a very hard thing to do because most entrepreneurs are mavericks, they shoot off the hip, they are spontaneous, and that is a very difficult personality type for a large corporation to retain. 
Carol Johnson When we see large acquisitions go into an area and agents leave in droves, it is because that spark is gone.  I think they should put you in charge of figuring out how to manufacturer a copy of that spark.
Barbara Corcoran That would be easy.  Everything comes down to having a system.
Carol Johnson You mentioned personality types and characters.  In your book you list eight of the most amazing traits of great salespeople and one of those is great salespeople make lousy employees.  How were you were able to take these people that were probably considered "problems" by other employers and mold them into a team?
Barbara Corcoran I took each person and rather than mold him or her into the team, I figured out what they were great at and then put a job around them.  I did it quite the opposite.  I never went out looking to fill a position.  I would watch someone and figure out what his or her gift was and create the position.   I would listen to what each person's gift was.  My most profitable office was created because I saw the particular woman who started it in that role.  I could see her in that little neighborhood, with the stuffy "mom's of the private school".  She didn't even know what was about to hit her.  She wasn't even working for me, I just saw her and knew where she would fit. 
Carol Johnson Where else did you find talented people?
Barbara Corcoran I never prospected; I just kept my eyes and ears open.  Our first receptionist I met in a flower shop.  I could see her as my receptionist.  She couldn't do enough for me - she would give me an extra flower, sometimes two.  She had a beam of light in her that would knock you over.  It took me six months to convince her to leave the flower shop to answer my phones.  The first day at my company, without instructions, she answered the phone, "Thank you for calling The Corcoran Group!"  That was just simply an extension of her personality.  Now everyone answers the phone that way.
Carol Johnson That goes back to what your mom taught you - to look for those gifts.
Barbara Corcoran We had attorneys that we worked with outside the firm that started working for us as salespeople.  After working with us, they would get that "happiness vibe" and they would realize that they were not very happy.  So we moved them out of being an attorney and into sales.  We have brought over teachers, nurses, and waiters.  For a time waiters were my specialty - I kept taking them home with me!  I even brought over a couple of flight attendants.  A sales career does not require a specific personality, rather a force of the personality - the optimism of the person.
Carol Johnson I loved the glossary in the back of your book that lists all your ideas.  How do you relate to your agents in order to help them achieve that next level of production?
Barbara Corcoran The main thing you must do is put the systems in place so the agents can fly higher and higher.    Usually most agents need more help, and the last thing they want to do is higher help.  Over the years I have pushed my agents to hire help.  They thought it wasn't necessary; they worried about if they would be able to keep that person busy, etc.  I had to push the systems onto people.  Salespeople need order and systems.  The real mark of a great manager is that they acknowledge that the salespeople are so much better than they even think they are.  It is like being a parent - believe your child is incredible and your child will be incredible!  I used to make bets with my agents.  I would bet them $1,000 if they made 30% or 50% more the following year.  I would make them sign a document, and I always wanted to lose and I usually did.  I had faith in them.  I would convince them that they deserved more than they had.  I would tell them I would do anything for them. 
Carol Johnson One of your management theories is that "everybody wants - what everybody wants, and nobody wants - what nobody wants".  Can you explain those containers that you built around this theory?
Barbara Corcoran What every agent wants is the acknowledgement that they are incredible.  I think of agents as racehorses.  They are high-strung, they need to be groomed, and they need to be taken care of.  They need to be treated like they are kings and queens.   What happens is they will become great recruiters for you?  I realized that my best agents and my middle-producing agents brought in almost every other great agent into our company. 
Carol Johnson Sometimes broker/owners want the people to come to their office, but they don't have anything to offer them.  What do you offer your agents?
Barbara Corcoran A great trick (which I was almost sued for), is that when we were lucky enough to be involved with a transaction involving a higher price then what we were used to, I would write a handwritten note to the co-op agent and send a giant bouquet of flowers.  My note would say, "Thank you for allowing our agent to help you sell the apartment.  Your manager must be so proud of you!"  There were very few agents that agreed to that last comment, because their managers rarely tell them they are proud of them.  It is a powerful recruiting tool.  Once they do come over to your firm, you must keep that "courting" up. 
Carol Johnson What do you do for your agent's birthday and other important dates?
Barbara Corcoran Nothing.  We do nothing for their birthday, their anniversary or even the holidays.  I am sure that putting systems into place to recognize these dates would be good, but the systems I put into place emphasis on the "odd ball" events.  Those other dates become expected overtime.  But I prefer to send a salesperson a couple notes a year for a particular deal, a show of kindness, or something unique.  That really recognizes them as an individual.   One party I have every year is a February "Sweetheart" party.  February is a dismal month in my part of the country, plus you can get a discount on a hall on an off month.  We would throw them an unbelievable party and everyone in the industry would talk about it for months! 
Carol Johnson We all know that you took Donald Trump to court and won over unpaid fees.  Can you tell our members the difference between your hiring and team building skills with Donald Trump's?
Barbara Corcoran Donald Trump is a marketer above anything else.  He doesn't build buildings anymore - he leases his name.  He is a phenomenal businessman.  I have worked with Donald Trump many times.  He is excellent at reading people.  He can spot a person and size them up immediately.  He finds people and knows how to use them.  Once he has gained all he can from a person, he disposes of them and steps on them.  I have not only witnessed this behavior from him, but he has done it to me.  This way he operates works for him, he has a constant revolving door and he can continue to bring in new people because of his enormous name recognition. 

I think that I have an equally strong gift to size somebody up and decide how I can use him or her.  But the difference between Donald and I is that I think about how I can lift them up and hang on for the ride.   One method is a "people valuing" philosophy and the other method is a "people disposing" type philosophy.  He is not a nice person.  I have witnessed how he can work over someone -  he is a first class bully.

When I was in court against him, there were 37 other cases against him.  The reason - he uses and burns people out.  Obviously, it works for him.

Up until that lawsuit with Donald Trump, in 28 years in the business, I had never been sued or sued someone else.  I hate conflict.  I feel it is negative energy and I would rather focus my time on something else.

Carol Johnson One piece of advice that you give in the book, is that if you have the ability to hire two people and if all things are equal - hire a woman.  How do you get away with saying this so that men cannot come back and say they are discriminated against?
Barbara Corcoran When I was able to make those types of decisions, I didn't have a large parent company over me restraining me.  I don't know how that would play out now.  I wasn't saying that I should hire a woman because she is better than a man; it was simply that I had more women to choose from.  Most men wouldn't want to work for me.  Men ran the majority of the large firms in town and the salespeople were women.   However, all things being equal, I have found that women work very hard.  It was easier to move them around, change offices, etc.  When I had male managers I found it more complicated.
Carol Johnson Barbara, if you could give us one piece of recruiting advice, what would that advice be?
Barbara Corcoran The most practical advice I could give is sizing people up based upon which category do they fall into: are they expanders or are they containers.  I would put an expander and a container together in every office and I would never have to worry about that office.  The expander wants to dream and create and the container wants to put everything in boxes.  If it wasn't for my partner, who is a container, I would have been great at PR and opening offices, but they would have been poorly run.  And, if it weren't for me, my partner never would have opened more than one office.

Questions & Answers


How do you find your Salespeople's assistance and where did they work?
Barbara Corcoran It would evolve.  Someone would mention that they could use someone 1/2 day a week and I would go through the schools in New York, because they were cheaper and very smart.  I had a hard time deciding to give up sales desks for an administrative assistant, but I eventually crossed that barrier.  Once we had an assistant coming in one day a week the other sales associates would absorb her and she would become full time.

I realized quickly, that giving up that desk originally planned for a sales associate to an assistance quickly made up the loss revenue by increasing the sales of the other associates.  It took care of itself.
Question What kind of training do you give your agents?
Barbara Corcoran I believe in one kind of training - role-playing.  I would get my top agents to stand up and give a demonstration on a listing presentation.  It was difficult at first, but they got really good over time.  Everyone failed publicly at one time or another - and learned from it.
Question How to you handle the problem of time management?
Barbara Corcoran I have always used a couple of systems that have always kept me on the straight and narrow.  The first is that whenever I began to feel overwhelm, I would go sit in a quiet place (outside my office), I would take a yellow legal pad, put a line down the middle, and I would write what I loved doing and what I hated doing.  I would go back to the office and give away the tasks that I didn't like doing.  Sometimes I didn't have anybody to give it to and I would just know that I wouldn't do it anymore.  It was a mental vacation again.

The other system I have used to management my time is this:  I would take my partner and we would plan an out of the office meeting.  Before we left for the meeting, we would ask everybody in the office to write on index cards (different colors for each person) and write down every task they do on an individual index card.  Each person handed in between 8 and 30 cards.  We would go away with the cards and we would sort out the tasks as if we had a new organization.  We would have in front of us what had to be changed.  We would re-structure our organization in three hours.  It was a great system for us, because it had movable pieces.

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Carol Johnson is President of The Recruiting Network and Publisher of The Recruiting Pipeline web site, the real estate industry's leading source for strategic recruiting resources. She is the author of The Recruiting Revolution in Real Estate and a leading authority on recruiting systems, products and services.  Her monthly Teleclasses attract some of the most influential brokers and recruiters in the industry. Her coaching has increased individual manager�s recruited volume with astounding results.  For information on Carol Johnson's coaching and consulting programs call: 847-524-8487.PD