By Velda Addison, Hart Energy

One might think the author of a book called If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons On Your Pigtails: and Other Lessons I Learned From My Mom would be the least likely speaker at an oil and gas conference.

But when that author is a blunt businesswoman who created a billion-dollar business, everyone listens.

That was the case when Barbara Corcoran, a real estate mogul and a Shark on ABC’s Shark Tank, spoke to a full house gathered for the KPMG Global Energy Conference in Houston. The founder of The Corcoran Group, one of New York’s largest real estate companies, told the crowd about how her mom taught her how to use what she has to succeed. She shared the story of her real estate company’s (later sold) beginnings and how the words “You will never succeed without me” from a former business partner/boyfriend drove her to success.

“An insult can be the best motivator in the world,” she said, later describing how she learned the power of the press by creating industry reports focusing on celebrities to grow the business. The media, starting with The New York Times, picked up the reports and wrote articles based on it. “Without the publicity I wouldn’t have created the brand.”

Her talk was not focused on the energy industry. But that didn’t mean the industry couldn’t gain insight from someone with another perspective. Just as the industry has found uses in the oil patch for technology from the medical and aerospace sectors, a few lessons from a shark could help during these tough times.

Here are a few of her points:

  • Fun is good for business. Oil and gas companies might not have fun near the top of any staff meeting agenda. But having fun is good for bringing people together and generating new ideas. She spoke about how a trip to Harlem brought her team of real estate agents closer together.
  • Mandate creativity and allocate money for innovation. “The little guy has the corner on creativity, while the big guy has the corner on money. So I had to constantly mandate creativity,” Corcoran said. “The bigger you [companies] are the harder it is to innovate.” Stop looking for good ideas at the conference room table. Incubate a lot of ideas and see what sticks on the wall, she said.
  • Reward failures as much as successes. Her idea of videotaping homes for sale and letting potential buyers view the videos instead of physically going to view the homes was initially a flop. But those videos set her above other real estate firms when she put them on the Internet, during its early days, drawing international attention.

“The big things that turn your business around are the most creative things,” she said.

Those in the oil and gas industry—both individuals and companies alike—can take those points and run with them. The possibilities are endless, and they could go a long with in motivating employees and companies to strive to do their best in good times and in not so good times.

Contact the author, Velda Addison, at