Schmoozing with the Meanest Shark in the Tank, part 1

By Rosanne G. Dunkelberger

Kevin O’Leary — aka “Mr. Wonderful” — is the sixth dynamic speaker in the Power Forward series, sponsored by First Commerce Credit Union. Kevin has gained fame as a co-host for 10 years on the business reality show “Shark Tank.” He is also an exceedingly successful entrepreneur who carries some of his financial savvy into the world of personal finance and relationships in his three “Cold Hard Facts” books, as well as a new podcast, “Ask Mr. Wonderful.”

Before his talk, which will focus on inner workings of the “Shark Tank” show, tips on how to become an effective entrepreneur, and his “Golden Rules of Investing,”

Kevin shared some of his personal insights on success in life, business and entrepreneurship.

On Shark Tank, you come across as brusque — maybe even a little mean. Is that a requirement for successful entrepreneurship or just your style?

My mother taught me way back, if you tell the truth you’ll never have to remember what you said. Now, some people don’t like the truth, but in business there’s no gray zone. You either make money or you lose money. But you might as well tell people the truth, because the truth will visit them. It will happen. I find it very disingenuous to find Barbara or Laurie (Greiner) beside me on Shark Tank telling people, “Well, you just keep doing what you’re doing, it’s wonderful, but I’m not going to give you a dime.” What they’re really saying is it’s a stupid idea and it’s going to go to zero. I’m the only shark that tells the truth, and I’m very proud of that.

Florida State University opened the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship in 2017 to help students design, launch and run their own businesses. Do you think entrepreneurship can be taught?

What’s important about teaching entrepreneurship is it gets people to understand what a challenge it actually is. It is not an easy road. So, to the extent you can talk about it as journey — as I’m sure this curriculum does — it’s exceptionally important because making that decision should be done at a young age. In your late teens or early 20s because it is a hard, hard, hard journey and the personal sacrifice is brutal. There’s going to be a debate forever about whether you can teach entrepreneurship, but you can explain it, and that’s what matters. And I totally endorse this idea. I think it’s wonderful. It’s a great idea. Many other college campuses are doing the same thing, even high schools now.

You’re 64 now. Any plans to retire?

He laughs. No. My whole premise is that the reason you pursue the entrepreneurial journey is to provide for personal freedom. The things I do every day are things I want to do and I enjoy doing. I want to spend my time, whatever’s left, doing the things that really matter to me. Supporting entrepreneurship, competing in business, doing all the things I do, that is life for me.

I tried retirement. When I sold The Learning Company … I spent three years on every beach all around the world and I thought that would be it would be a great life. It was boring as hell.

Continue to part 2