Mendoza School of Business

Kevin O’Leary’s best investments are women-led businesses

Published: February 9, 2017 / Author: Christine Cox

The return of Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary to the Mendoza College of Business on January 30 was everything you’d expect.

  • Harsh judging of three Notre Dame student entrepreneurial ventures.

  • Tips for success on the popular ABC investment show: Articulate your business in 90 seconds or less; explain why you’re the right person to execute the plan; know your numbers inside and out.

  • Praise for the power of Shark Tank: “Shark” investors see return of capital 50 percent of the time (compared with a national average of 20 percent), and companies that receive backing from the sharks usually don’t spend money acquiring customers because of the benefit of publicity from the show

But O’Leary, who first visited in 2014, may have surprised the full house in Jordan Auditorium with one observation: He has seen unexpected, overwhelming success by investing in companies run by women.

“Not some of my returns, but ALL of my returns, have come from companies either owned or run by women,” he said about the companies he has backed over Shark Tank’s eight-year run.

O’Leary called his data on women-run companies “remarkable,” especially because it spans multiple geographies and sectors with most of the women CEOs not knowing each other to share best practices.

He offered this list of successful strategies he’s observed in women-led companies:

Set achievable goals.
In companies run by women, targets were lower and more pragmatic — which resulted in goals being achieved 95 percent of the time, O’Leary said. For companies run by men, goals were achieved 50 percent of the time. “If you achieve in a small company your goal every quarter, the morale of the company starts to grow. Employee turnover lowers. Productivity goes up,” O’Leary said. “This is how you keep a team together.”

Be accessible.
A woman CEO taught O’Leary the value of keeping two phones. Only his immediate family knows the number for the first one. Hundreds of employees know the number for the other. He tells employees to call him any time there’s a problem. The result? The employee phone rarely rings because people respect that he trusts them with his personal number and they don’t abuse that trust. “When you show respect and give accessibility to your employees, you create a bond,” he said. “It’s respect.”

Delegate, delegate, delegate.
O’Leary says companies start seeing trouble when they try to grow from $5 million to $10 million in sales. At this point, delegation becomes crucial and leaders have to trust employees to take on greater responsibility. But many CEOs can’t let go. “Their egos get in the way and they fail,” O’Leary said. Women CEOs who have gone past $25 million are especially adept at delegating.

Develop exceptional time management skills.
Women CEOs tend to allocate their own time and their employees’ time very efficiently, O’Leary has observed. Combine that skill with excellent delegation, and the CEO finds time to think about strategy and next steps. “This is where you start to rise to be a real leader in a business,” O’Leary said. “You have to be a strategic thinker and think ‘What’s going to hit us next? What’s my next opportunity? What’s my biggest risk?’”

In addition to the observation O’Leary made specifically about women entrepreneurs, he also offered two points about businesses in general:

Use technology as a weapon to gain brand share.
A well-executed social media strategy is the “number one weapon” for small businesses, O’Leary said. He stressed the importance of posting high-quality content because anything less will not gain traction, and specifically recommended putting a team in place to produce a database of content. “You have to pump it out every day,” he emphasized. “These [social media platforms] are all weapons you have got to use.”

Remember business is war! There are winners and losers.
O’Leary said business has a dark side, and that its nature is to steal share from other companies. “It is a war,” he said. “It’s not a social exercise; you can’t save the world. The DNA of a business was never designed to do that. It services three constituents: your customers, your employees and your shareholders.”

Even if business is war, it is not without altruism, O’Leary said in closing. “I tell students, ‘You don’t start a business out of greed. It’s not about money,’” he explained. “The pursuit of entrepreneurship is about freedom and helping others achieve their goals at the same time.

“If you want to help someone — anyone, anywhere in the world — the best thing you can do is create a job for them,” he added. “Become an entrepreneur, start a business, create jobs. There’s absolutely nothing in the world more important or noble than that.”

Interested in entrepreneurship? Consider the Notre Dame MBA’s innovation and entrepreneurship concentration. Contact an admissions representative to learn more: