The timing of the announcement at 4 p.m. on a sweltering Friday in the middle of August, with half of Manhattan out of town, seemed designed to make Barbara Corcoran’s departure from the firm that bears her name as inconspicuous as possible.
That day, Aug.19, Corcoran did not go into the Madison Avenue offices of the firm she founded nearly 30 years ago. Only a few people those who knew her cell phone number, mostly managers at the company called to bid her farewell.
Word quickly spread among the Corcoran Group’s rank-and-file brokers, however, who sent her some 400 e-mails in the three hours after the announcement was made.
Corcoran, who was leaving for a trip to Australia the next day, said she’d read them when she got back.
And so the Queen of New York real estate announced she was stepping down from her throne, exiting the residential real estate business she had transformed in Manhattan since the late 1970s, becoming its most visible face and building its biggest firm.
Corcoran, who had served as chairman of the Corcoran Group since selling it in 2001, said she will officially step down in November to follow her new passion with a new television production firm.
Corcoran served a mostly figurehead role since her firm was bought for $70 million by conglomerate Cendant.
“It was kind of odd being the chairman,” Corcoran told The Real Deal. “I felt like I was watching a giant cruiser making a wide turn. I’m more of a player than a watcher, and throughout my career I had been used to going in Monday mornings and saying ‘let’s do this’ and make things happen. That wasn’t my charge anymore.”
Faced with a renewal option each year to continue on as chairman, Corcoran said she had considered leaving earlier, but at least two obstacles got in her way. Money wasn’t necessarily a primary consideration as Corcoran received her big payout when she sold her firm, according to sources.
“Each year I had to re-decide whether I was staying on,” Corcoran said. “I was a little afraid of leaving, to be honest. And also, leaving the firm, it feels like you are abandoning your kids.”
The departure was not acrimonious, said Corcoran.
Pamela Liebman, whom Corcoran herself hired as a broker two decades ago, and who has been president and CEO of the brokerage since 2000, agreed.
“We always knew the day would come,” said Liebman. “She will be sorely missed. Barbara’s legacy will always be part of the company.”
Corcoran was largely responsible for taking the white-glove tenor of Manhattan brokerage and making it something more democratic. She was famous for her approach to publicity, becoming the first broker to issue regular state-of-the-market reports, getting her name in the papers, and pushing her business’s name there in the process.
No one will replace Corcoran as chairman, Liebman said. Corcoran’s distinctive cropped blond hair once found plastered on billboards, newspapers and the Internet hasn’t been the focus of branding for years. However, Corcoran’s face still figures prominently on the firm’s Web site and Liebman acknowledged “there are places where the image will still be used.”
Regardless of Corcoran branding issues, expect to still see her face everywhere.
The maven’s new focus will be television. Corcoran is currently under contract with Fox News for all her cable TV appearances, making nearly 50 appearances on the channel in the last year alone.
On the network TV side, Corcoran has made recent appearances on “The View,” “Good Morning America,” and “The Today Show,” among others.
Six months ago she started Barbara Corcoran Productions, which produces TV content, mostly short segments.
The five-person operation has been producing a regular weekly segment for Fox News airing Friday afternoons called “Hot Property,” which looks at homes around the world.
“I’ve always thought of the press as my partners in the business,” Corcoran said. “But I always thought it was more analytical work. I’ve found it’s really creative.”
Corcoran said she plans to continue to focus on segments about entrepreneurship and real estate, and doesn’t have plans for her own show, “though it might eventually end up that way.” She also said she has taken on double the amount of office space she currently needs, anticipating an operation that will grow.
As a brokerage, Liebman said the Corcoran Group will be just fine.
“On an emotional level we’re really going to miss her,” she said. “On a business level, she hasn’t been involved in company operations for five years.”