You're Fired!

Congratulations on getting canned. Now you can finally do what you want to do-on your own terms.
Magazine Contributor
8 min read

This story appears in the May 2000 issue of . Subscribe »

When Frank Wood, the 36-year-old owner of Key-Logic LLC, a computer education center in Windsor, Connecticut, concluded a recent presentation with a prospective client, the president of the client company remarked, "Do you realize your company is nearly the most expensive bid we have received for this project?" Not missing a beat, Wood calmly replied: "I'm so very sorry. We pride ourselves on being the most expensive!"

Key-Logic got the contract. Such confidence in his product has helped Wood and his outstanding team build a successful $2 million company in the eight years since Wood was fired from his previous job. Shortly after new owners took over the company, Wood's entire work unit was cut, despite its high profitability and strong contributions to the company. Recently married and a new homeowner, Wood initially considered seeking another job, but not for long. One day in the shower, he said to himself, "Go for it!" and decided to start his own business.

Wood spent the next few weeks writing training manuals 12 to 14 hours a day, then began seeking business from colleagues who knew about his talent for computer training. He was breaking even within four months. Today, he's built a successful business with three branches, a global training presence and a solid reputation for quality.

The experience of being fired can, in fact, be a catalyst for many-a jump start on building a life as an entrepreneur, according to Dr. Alan Weiss, president of the Rhode Island management consulting firm Summit Consulting Group Inc. And author of Million Dollar Consulting (Mcgraw Hill, $15, 800-766-7935). Weiss' very successful company was launched more than 15 years ago when he was fired from the presidency of a consulting company. "Traumas shake people out of lethargy," notes Weiss. "They allow them to buy into a new course of action. Individuals often need emotional upheaval to make it happen. In many cases, trauma actually helps to motivate."

Rebuild Your Career

Make Your Way

Tina Miller, 31, of Merrill, Wisconsin, knows all about using emotional upheaval to create a new course of action. Miller found the impetus to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a freelance writer when she was "downsized" from her position as a supervisor in a large insurance company where she'd worked for six years. Miller's termination came only one week after her boss assured her that she would not lose her job after the company had been sold.

Helped financially by a severance package and unemployment compensation, Miller is now eight months into her new career as a freelance writer and on course to break even by the end of her first year. But it hasn't been easy. She observes: "When you lose a job, you just go into shock . . . It's devastating. But if you can stop and reflect on what's important, you can set yourself on a course that will be so much better than the one you left. I won't work for anyone else."

Miller's comments, and those of other entrepreneurs who succeeded after termination and aren't interested in returning to the corporate world, don't surprise Weiss. "You resolve never again to leave fate in someone else's hands. You have seen things done so poorly that you have a healthy sense of outrage."

Stick to Business Rules

There Are Some Rules

The desire and commitment to become an entrepreneur after the trauma of termination are necessary-but not sufficient-ingredients for success in the business world. According to Tom Culley, author of Beating The Odds In Small Business (Simon & Schuster, $20, 203-855-9952), successful entrepreneurs-even those entrenched in the digital age-tend to rely on two time-tested rules of business: 1) offer value to the customer, and 2) use common sense. "Business fundamentals haven't changed. When the business is just you, you need to focus on the owner. You need to make money and concentrate on the short-term," says Culley. "More than 70 percent of independent business owners fail because they neglect these simple rules."

Torrey Shannon, 30, of Oak Grove, Kentucky, heeded these rules after she was fired. After putting in more than nine years with a large pharmaceutical company, she realized the company's values were no longer consistent with her own. Shannon expressed her unhappiness about the sloppy work habits of employees and dishonest management dealings-and one day, she found herself out of work.

Undaunted, Shannon decided to put her extensive health-care background and her personal drive for perfection to good use. She moved quickly to open her own medical transcription service, TRxSCRIBE transcription services. Operating in a very competitive market, Shannon focused on delivering the highest-quality work to her physician clients. Timely completion with a minimum of mistakes helped to grow her business quickly. Now 2 years old, the business not only provides her with a good living, but also gives her the freedom to work anywhere and allows her to spend more time with her two young children.

Maintain a Good Work Ethic

I'll Never Do That!

Like many of her peers who were burned by shortsighted managers, Shannon resolved to treat her own employees far better than she was treated. She supports her staff's needs to balance their work and family lives. Honest in her dealings with them, she expects and receives high-quality work. Wood does so as well and rarely sees any turnover at his company. And like Wood, Shannon's product is more expensive than her competitors', but she believes she provides a better value, and her clients concur. In her first year of business, she was earning 50 percent more than she was before being fired.

Kari Pastor, the 33-year-old co-founder of Weaving the Wisdom, a Hartford, Connecticut, company specializing in unique products, seminars and conferences for women, decided after two particularly brutal terminations that she was meant to create her own future. Pastor was "eased out" of her first job in a training company and later fired from a spa. Tired of the "seventh grade playground politics," she decided to start weaving the wisdom.

Pastor's path has involved sacrifices; she's raising two young children on her own and has moved in with her mother to reduce expenses. Having secured funding, pastor and her partner, Colleen Imani-King, 31, are planning two major conferences for June and September in Boulder, Colorado. The seminars are titled "Sacred Relationships" and "Celebrating The Cycles Of Women's Lives." Participants share experience and insight at the conferences.

Having turned down a number of lucrative job offers, Pastor is committed to running her own show. She must know what she's doing-after all, she helped her previous company grow from $20,000 in annual sales to $1 million-plus in just a few years. "The only way to win is to avoid the victim mode," notes Pastor, adding that first-year sales for Weaving the Wisdom are doing well. "You need to align your work with your passion. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. [Feeling] discontent makes us tick. We have no patience for complacency."

These young entrepreneurs, formerly very unhappy employees, vary by the types of industries, years in business, lifestyles and plans for the future, but they all share a passion-not for revenge, but for the paths they've chosen as entrepreneurs. Most do not expect to become multi-millionaires, but they all treasure the control they now have over their lives, the ability to balance work and family time, and the opportunity to create a workplace very different from the ones they left behind.

Qualities of an Entrepreneur

Who Wants To Be An Entrepreneur?

Unhappy employees, but successful entrepreneurs . . . what are their traits?

  • They exhibit a low patience level in all aspects of personal and professional life.
  • They are easily bored.
  • They have a low attention to detail and prefer to focus on the big picture.
  • They need to be bold and have a high degree of assertiveness.
  • They are risk-takers, yet their organizations frown on risk.
  • They are distrustful and intolerant of office politics.
  • They have a confidence level that borders on arrogance.
  • They can rarely keep their opinions to themselves.
  • They favor a congruence of their own values with that of the company for which they work.
  • They don't fit well in a corporate environment.
  • They are not always team players.
  • They are creative, ambitious and adventurous.
  • They move quickly and expect others to do so.

Regina McNamara is a keynote speaker and the president of Kelso Consulting Group LLC, a Wolcott, Connecticut, operations consulting firm specializing in managing transition. She has helped several organizations in turnaround efforts that improved operations and profitabiltity and is currently working on her fourth book, You're Fired, You're Free!

Contact Sources

Key-Logic LLC, (860) 688-3500,

Summit Consulting Group Inc., (800) 766-7935,

Tina Miller, (715) 536-3167,

TRxSCRIBE Transcription Services,


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