Review

Use What You've Got, and Other Business Lessons I Learned From My Mom

by Barbara Corcoran

I rarely read business books, finding them dry and didactic. For those of you who feel the same way, this is the book that will change your mind. Barbara Corcoran has written an emotionally charged and intellectually energetic book, which will give people ideas on how to motivate, invigorate and otherwise encourage any group that they lead, and organization they build.

Okay, for any of you living outside New York City and its boroughs, who is Barbara Corcoran? She's one of the most powerful names in New York real estate, who started her company with $1,000 and sold it in 2001 for $70 million. Now are you paying attention? I figured those numbers might wake you up. How did she do it? By lessons she learned from her mother.

Instead of focusing on a lot of detailed plans and system analysis (can you say Six Sigma?), Corcoran delivers practical and valuable tips on how to get ahead in business, all learned by watching her mom run a family of 12 with the efficiency of a production line, along with a high-level of quality control and an embracing sense of humor. If you are a parent, you know the challenges of guiding and inspiring your children, while still maintaining an air of authority laced with love. Florence was a multidimensional mom who raised a kid who learned how to create success from the way she ran her house. She raised Barbara to be confident, but not overconfident, which leads to cockiness and mistakes. Not a bad plan for a mom from the 'burbs of NJ in the '50s and '60s. You wonder at what point she knew Barbara was going to take on the world the way she did. I am betting it was somewhere around the hospital nursery. She saw the good in her children and nurtured it.

Although her subject is ostensibly real estate, Corcoran is such a witty writer that you are constantly asking "what happened then." Through chapters such as "If You Want to Get Noticed, Write Your Name On the Wall," "Use Your Imagination to Fill in the Blanks," "It's Your Game, Make Up Your Own Rules," and one that will make you laugh ---- "If You Don't Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails" --- Corcoran combines stories of her family life with what she did to grow each phase of her business. What you end up with is a witty memoir and a powerful guidebook on how to get ahead. What you'll also find is that later you are remembering the anecdote as well as the business story!

Corcoran is scrappy, gusty and sharp. She's also extremely in touch with what needs to get done to build and nurture a business. I have been to the Corcoran Group offices and I was impressed with the attention she gave to details to make her employees feel like stars --- and winners. Things like oversized fridges stocked with great juices and drinks and treating them to fabulous outings. At the same time I never doubted her own willingness to get her hands dirty, to take on her own challenges and lead! For someone like me, who has been an entrepreneur for the past seven years, I have found her writing to be inspiring. It passes a real litmus test --- I remember what I read and actually can see how to implement it.

Often when you finish a business book you are daunted, not inspired. Each idea requires new systems, new protocol, etc. Here instead you adapt life lessons to business. Now how smart is THAT? This may be the first time I am applying business lessons to the rest of my life! I am parenting differently after reading this. Go figure. Barbara's mom will end up with a whole passal of surrogate kids!

Because this is not a novel and we know the way the story ends from the start, I can give you the last line, which really sums it all up. "In the end, Mom, it all comes down to this. All my life, you never told me I couldn't. You only told me I could." Great concept. As a parent, I know that if I can instill that much in my children, I will have done my job really well.

Reviewed by Carol Fitzgerald on January 24, 2011

Use What You've Got, and Other Business Lessons I Learned From My Mom
by Barbara Corcoran

  • Publication Date: February 10, 2003
  • Genres: Business, Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 261 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover
  • ISBN-10: 1591840023
  • ISBN-13: 9781591840022