‘Shark Tank’s’ Kevin O’Leary Says This Harsh Advice From His Stepfather Helped Him Become A Success

Kevin O’Leary of ABC’s Shark Tank never has a problem speaking his mind when he doesn’t like an idea. Ironically going by the self-given moniker ‘Mr. Wonderful,’ the millionaire investor is the first to be brutally honest with entrepreneurs entering the tank if he’s thinks their business venture is a flop.

The reality star has previously shared some words of wisdom he received from his stepfather, which may make it easier to understand why O’Leary is usually so tough when he turns down a pitch.

“Shark Tank’s” Kevin O’Leary | Paul Morigi/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Straight-shooting ‘Shark’

O’Leary is aware of his reputation on the show. “Everybody calls me the mean shark on Shark Tank. That’s not true,” he told NBC News Better last year. “I’m the only shark that tells the truth. In money, it’s just black and white. Either you make it, or you lose it. So you might as well deal with the truth right from the get-go.”

Rather than seeing his tough talk as insensitive, he feels that by being brutally honest, he’s keeping aspiring business owners from wasting time and money. “If you’re doing something that’s going to go bankrupt, why not deal with it now, and start something else that maybe will be successful?” O’Leary said.

While the Shark Tank panelist may consider what he’s communicating as somewhat humane to the entrepreneurs entering the tank, he doesn’t put too much thought in choosing a delicate delivery. “When I see an idea I really hate and I know it’s going to fail, I often say, ‘Take that idea behind the barn and shoot it,’” he said, sharing one of his trademark tag lines. “I want to be graphic about it. It’s like Old Yeller. You got rabies, your idea’s going to die, you might as well kill it and be merciful, and go do something else. Taking it behind the barn and shooting it is the right thing to do.”

Tough love

The Shark Tank star credits his stepfather for putting him on the path toward success shortly after he finished high school. After graduation, O’Leary wanted to pursue a career as a musician or photographer, but his stepdad shared some of his thoughts on O’Leary’s aspirations, and didn’t mince words.

“He looked me in the eye after I finished high school and said, ‘You’re not good enough at any of those. And you might as well face the reality now that you’re going to starve to death if you pursue them,‘” O’Leary told CNBC Make It. “You’re not the best photographer out there. You’re not even the best guitarist. So how are you going to become No.1 in a space where you’re starting at a negative six?’”

O’Leary’s stepfather encouraged him to consider other career paths that could provide more financial stability while using his talents. “He said, ‘How about this? How about you go back and figure out what you’re good at? And I think you’re a good marketer. You work hard. You hustle. Maybe you should pursue a business career,’” O’Leary said. “He was 100% right.”

Though Mr. Wonderful took the advice, he was able to find a way to have a bit of the best of both worlds. “It’s kind of interesting because I wanted to get back at him a little bit — and that’s kind of a relationship you have with fathers and stepfathers,” O’Leary said. “So what did I start? I started a film production company, where I could take pictures all day long. And it worked.”

Success story

As his record reflects, O’Leary went on to be a massive success in the business world. According to Inc., O’Leary launched the company Softkey Software Products from his basement in 1983 sold it in 1999 to Mattel Toy Company for $3.7 billion. He also started several other successful businesses including O’Leary Funds, O’Leary Fine Wines and the O’Leary Financial Group. With his success, he now has the freedom to enjoy his true passions, like photography and music.

The millionaire investor is still thankful for the tough love he got from his stepfather. “Sometimes it’s very sobering when a parent tells you you’re not good at something,” O’Leary said. “You have to look at it this way: You know they love you. They want the best for you, but they want you to deal in the truth. In life, it’s so important to face reality straight on. The worst thing you can do for yourself is to fool your own self about your potential and your future.”

O’Leary maintains that his stepfather’s driving motivation was that he cared about his stepson and wanted the best for him. “He was trying to be kind to me by saying, ‘No, you’re not gonna be a rock star. No, you’re not gonna be a photographer. Neither of those are going to work. You’ve got to be in business, make some money and then pursue the things you like,’” O’Leary said. “Which I eventually did.”

Watch ABC’s Shark Tank on Sunday nights!