October 29, 2014 by Speakers' Spotlight
How Did ‘Shark Tank’s “Mr. Wonderful” Get Rich?
He’s opinionated and ruthless, and he hungers for big deals. Yet he made millions helping children learn how to read. Nothing if not a polarizing force on television and at the podium, Kevin O’Leary pulls no punches when it comes to the good, the bad, and the ugly as it pertains to markets and economic opportunities. O’Leary is the former co-host of The Lang & O’Leary Exchange; a former panelist on the wildly popular program Dragons’ Den and a current judge on Shark Tank; and author of the bestselling book Cold Hard Truth: On Business, Money, and Life. Below, Bustle.com examines just how O’Leary made his millions:
ABC’s Shark Tank scratches that itch everybody has, the fantasy of coming up with that one, brilliant idea that would take you from eating Top Ramen to lounging on a mega yacht. Kevin O’Leary, Canadian businessman and Shark Tank’s Mr. Wonderful, has a reputation among TV fans as the tough guy, the truth teller. His sharp-tongued advice never gets sentimental or goes easy on the business owner. He’s also known for offering complicated deals filled with royalties and fees instead of the simple equity deals that most of the sharks prefer. Because of that, he doesn’t make that many deals, but often offers the cold, hard truth, playing Simon Cowell for the audience. He also has a constant refrain, and it boils down to “$$$.” He knows money, and at least in his public persona, that’s all he cares about.
But that reputation isn’t just based on his television career. Before he was Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary was — and still is — an outrageously successful businessman who’s proven he can predict exactly what business to get into at just the right time. He’s mastered, as Liz Lemon says, “That thing that rich people do where they turn money into more money.” So if you want some tips on how to become a billion-dollar shark, look no further.
He Started with Software
O’Leary knew from the start that computers and software would be a huge business. So in the mid ’80s he founded Softkey, a Toronto-based company that packaged software as floppy disks and CDs. O’Leary credits marketing as the key to his company’s success.
He’s Actually Been in a Kids-Based Field
Though he’s never the most kid-friendly shark, Mr. Wonderful bought The Learning Company, which made educational computer games, and absorbed it into Softkey, retaining the TLC name. He sold TLC to Mattel for over $3 billion in 1999, a huge disaster for the toy company. But Kevin had already moved on, leaving the company six months after the deal.
He Kept Things Cool and Managed Investments
The shark’s next big business venture was Storage Now, a cold storage facility that became the third largest storage facility in Canada. And he’s still in the investments game with The O’Leary Group, an assets management firm.
Then, He Became a TV Star
He started on Dragon’s Den, the Canadian adaptation of a Japanese series that was eventually turned into Shark Tank. Now, O’Leary leverages his fame by buying into the businesses that appear in the den/tank and cohosting his Canadian business talk show, The Lang and O’Leary Exchange. Even though it’s where he got his start, Kevin is leaving the CBC— he announced he’s leaving both Dragon’s Den and Lang and O’Leary this year for an overall deal with CTV, another Canadian broadcaster.
He’s Written Books
One of the tips from his second book, The Cold Hard Truth on Men, Women, and Money includes tips on “How to spot a gold digger.” Those eye-rolling comments aside, he actually has some good points on maintaining financial health as a couple.
And He Shares His Views
O’Leary’s strong personality isn’t any less intense outside of the tank. He’s a staunch advocate for eco-friendliness and works with the Discovery Channel as a cohost of Project Earth, a series devoted to stopping global warming. But it’s a little less endearing when he does things like say the world’s incredible wealth disparity is “inspiring.” So Mr. Wonderful isn’t always quite so wonderful in real life, but so long as he stays on ABC, I can’t help it — I’m addicted to his tell-it-like-it-is attitude.