Kevin O’Leary of ‘Shark Tank’ visits Atlanta to promote his wine

Kevin O'Leary toasts with staff of a company he partially owns called IOU Central, which lends money to small businesses. CREDIT: Tomas Espinoza

Kevin O’Leary toasts with staff of a company he partially owns called IOU Central, which lends money to small businesses. CREDIT: Tomas Espinoza

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Friday, March 11, 2016

“Mr. Wonderful” Kevin O’Leary of “Shark Tank” fame was in good spirits earlier this week when he flew into Atlanta to promote his O’Leary Wines at Midtown eatery STK and visit a company he has a stake in: local small business lending company IOU Financial.

Why shouldn’t he be happy? The 61-year-old Canadian entrepreneur and financier has been a huge success for decades. Then “Shark Tank” came along on ABC in 2009.

He joined as a judge/investor with low expectations.

“We had no idea this was going happen,” O’Leary said to me during a party at STK, which serves his wine. “This has gone well beyond our expectations. Our fastest growing demographic is 9 to 18 year old girls.”

His blunt Simon Cowell-style approach on the show often intimidates the entrepreneurs pitching before the judges. He embodies the entire “Shark Tank” concept: eat or be eaten. The show is one of ABC’s most consistent performers and after CNBC began airing repeats in 2014, its success has only grown.

O’Leary now has financial investments in dozens of companies. His current count: 32. “At any one time, seven are doing incredibly well, seven are in the who knows zone and the rest are suffering,” he said, “but that’s the nature of venture capital. I’m really proud of doing this.”

“There is nothing more noble than creating jobs,” he added. “The way I look at it for the long run. It’s always worth trying to start a company. ‘Shark Tank’ for me is a mission.”

In his mind, there is “just as much risk working for a big company and getting let go than starting your own company and having a shot at becoming wildly successful.”

O’Leary said he became his own boss “out of fear of failure, which I think drives a lot of entrepreneurs.” He said it’s more about the freedom than the money. “I get to be here tonight talking about wine and meeting people who are interested in ‘Shark Tank.’ This is all great for me.”

He is working with STK because he feels the brands align: “STK draws young entrepreneurs, huge ‘Shank Tank’ fans, upwardly mobile Millennial types here. It’s perfect. People know me at STK. It’s been a huge success.”

Whenever he goes to a city with an STK, he hosts a party. He’s been in the wine business 20 years. “This stuff is amazing,” he said. “I make great wines! Why does everything that is low cost have to be such s***? So I said we can make great wine at low cost.” His wine is available at $13.99 a bottle on QVC.

During a toast with the partygoers, he said, “This stuff is nectar from nipple of Aphrodite!”

He noted that as a “young buckaroo, I used to hang out in Buckhead. I loved that place. It is way too high end for me now!”

CREDIT: Tomas Espinoza

CREDIT: Tomas Espinoza

ON TV
“Shark Tank,” 9 p.m. Fridays, ABC


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