Excerpt: 'Use What You've Got'

ByABC News via logo
May 27, 2003, 3:53 PM

May 28 -- In Use What You've Got and Other Business Lessons I Learned From My Mom, Barbara Corcoran, founder of the highly successful real estate company The Corcoran Group, tells readers how her mother's unconventional life lessons influenced her life and career. Following is an excerpt.

Chapter 8: If You Want to Be in Two Places at Once, Borrow a Reel-to-Reel

Sixth Month. The Corcoran Group.

The "empty desk" ad produced more people to start, train, and motivate than I had time to start, train, and motivate.

Each morning, I hit the phones at 8:30 sharp to finish setting up my sales appointments for the day. I was ready by 9:45, when my eager new hurdle-jumpers showed up for their sales training.

We spent the first twenty minutes reviewing our customer cards and dividing them into three piles, based on how urgently each customer needed a place to live. The "hot-to-trot" customers formed the "A" pile, the "I'll-buy-it-when-I-find it's were the "B"s, and the "C" rating was reserved for the annoying "I'll-shop-till-I-drop" group. I had each salesperson tear up their "C" customers and toss them in the trash.

For the next forty-five minutes, we called each of our new property listings, asking questions like "When are you moving? Why? When do you need to close?" Then we would rate each seller from least to most motivated and divide them into three piles, labeling them "not negotiable," "will take something less," and "gotta-get-outta-here-fast!"

I worked with my bright-eyed crew until 11:00 A.M., took a minute to tell them how much I appreciated them, and darted out for my showings of the day. Around 6:30, I rushed back to the office to return phone calls and set up my sales appointments for the next morning. Then, as it was the days before cell phones and e-mails, I read through the numerous notes left for me in my "in" box and jotted my responses to the salespeople.

Around 8:00, I locked the door and walked the eleven blocks home to my one-bedroom floor-through on East Sixty-ninth Street. I climbed the stairs to the second floor, turned the double deadbolt lock, took a consoling breath, and opened the door into the only place I had ever lived by myself in my life. I was thankful to be too busy and too exhausted to be lonely.

I knew I couldn't keep up the routine much longer. I knew I needed another me.

Bedtime. The Girls' Room.

"Eddie!" Mom hollered to Dad. "Eddie, they're ready!"

As the household population grew, Mom ran out of time. In order to give herself the needed minutes each night to prepare for the mornings, Mom was (thankfully) forced to give up her position as one of our two rooms' nightly lullaby singers. She had Dad record his favorite songs on a brown reel-to-reel tape deck that Uncle Alan had borrowed from his job at Bell Telephone. Then she set up Dad to alternate nights between the girls' room and the boys' room, singing songs to lull us to sleep. The room that wasn't getting a live performance could instead listen to Dad's Greatest Hits. In so doing, Mom succeeded in putting Dad in two places at once and creating a stand-in for her.

Tonight, Dad was live in the girls' room. He sauntered in with his old wood guitar and sat down on the edge of Ellen's bed. I watched as he carefully removed his pick from between the E, G, and A strings and strummed a single sweet C chord. Denise was the first to blurt out a request: "Sing us the one about 'Heart of my heart,' Dad!"

"And 'Valla-Valla-Vee Was in the Army,'" Ellen quickly added, as she set upright in her bed.

"And what about you, Barbara Ann?" Dad asked. "What will it be tonight?"

I always waited, so I could hear Dad say my name. "My usual," I answered, "'Give My Regards to Hoboken.'"

Dad began to sing in his Perry Como voice. I scrunched the covers up tight against my chin, stretched my toes as far as I could, and fought my heavy eyelids until I heard the very last words of my favorite song.

Give my regard to Hoboken, Down where the breezes blow. In all kinds of weather, You'll find us together, In H-O-B-O-K-E-N, E-N In H-O-B-O-K-E-N!

While Dad crooned in the girls' room and his voice reel-to-reeled in the boys' room, Mom made the next day's lunches in the kitchen.

The day Esther Kaplan arrived for her interview at the old Corcoran-Simone, she wore a two-piece knit dress that was mostly cream and green, with small touches of cranberry. She was a small, elegant woman in her mid-forties and carried a beige handbag with a Bakelite handle and clasp. An executive secretary to a real estate attorney, Esther wanted to make a change in her career.

The first thing Esther did was present her card, which she carefully removed from her purse. I caught a quick glimpse inside. Esther's handbag was a small miracle of organization, a miniature file cabinet disguised as a fashion accessory. She unzipped one of the two interior pockets, extracted the card, handed it to me, zipped the pocket, and snapped the clasp. Before the interview was over, I knew I'd feel safe with my wallet in Esther's purse.