Set aside, for the moment, why someone might suddenly be fired–could be a disagreement over strategy, could be letting a chicken loose in the cubicles. The real question is what happens next. For some, getting drop-kicked to the curb brings on a crisis of conscience (“What did I do wrong?”); for others, it ignites an “I’ll show the bastards!” fuse of fiery determination. Here, four cases of entrepreneurs who ultimately went from fired to fired up.
Colonel Harland Sanders: Buckets of Moxie
You might think you know Colonel Sanders–the white-suited, goateed Southern gent emblazoned on KFC buckets around the globe–but chances are, you have the wrong impression. Neither grandfatherly nor avuncular nor even, really, a colonel, Harland Sanders was a reputed hothead who bounced from job (streetcar conductor, tire salesman) to job (railroad fireman, lawyer, midwife) until his mid-60s. He was fired both from a job selling insurance and from his law practice shortly after he got into a courtroom fistfight. With his client. Later, while operating a gas station, Sanders began selling ham, biscuits, okra, and, yes, chicken to hungry travelers. Soon, he yanked the pumps and started a proper eatery. But the rest is not history: In 1956, when a new highway steered drivers away from his restaurant, Sanders was forced to sell. Showing family-size portions of creativity and moxie, he took his chicken-frying skills on the road and franchised his recipe to restaurants for 4¢ a bird. By 1964, the Colonel had persuaded 600 restaurants to sell his fried chicken, and, at age 74, he sold his company for a plucky $2 million.
Mark Cuban: A Valuable Lesson
Bartender. Dance-party host. Purveyor of stamps, coins, and garbage bags. Computer guy at Mellon Bank. NBA team owner. Shark. Mark Cuban has had so many jobs–and such a strong vision–that it would be shocking if he hadn’t been bounced at least once. But the story of Cuban’s firing is telling: In 1982, not long after he graduated from B-school, Cuban scored a job at Your Business Software, a PC retail shop in Dallas with a real gift for naming. One day, Cuban’s boss wanted him to open the store–you know, clean the windows, sweep up, flip the “Closed” sign around. Cuban, who was on the cusp of closing a big deal, decided he’d get someone to cover his shift while he wrapped the deal, and then present his boss with a fat $15,000 check. All of which he did. “I thought he’d be thrilled. He wasn’t. Fired me on the spot,” says Cuban. Rather than sales skill and initiative, his boss valued obedience and snappy dressing (not Cuban’s thing). For the future Shark, the lesson was clear: You don’t win with pressed suits; you win with sales. “I learned that sales cure all,” he says. “There’s never been a company that succeeded without sales.”
Milton Hershey: Just Desserts
For Milton Snavely Hershey, life certainly was like a box of chocolates. A publishing career melted when he was fired from his apprenticeship at a local pacifist-owned newspaper. What does it take to piss off a pacifist? This: Hershey, in a fit of pique, threw the owner’s hat into the machinery. His mom stepped in and scored another apprenticeship for him with a confectioner, where he found his sweet spot. After a few years, Hershey opened his own shop in Philly. It closed six years later, so he tried again in Denver. Then Chicago. Then New York City. He moved back to Pennsylvania in 1883, where precisely zero relatives would bankroll him yet again. Resolute, Hershey scraped and side-hustled (handyman, salesman) to start the Lancaster Caramel Co. This one would stick. In 1900, he sold the company for $1 million to start the chocolate-making enterprise for which he would become famous.
Sallie Krawcheck: Give ‘Em Elle
If you get fired and you’re lucky, you can discreetly slip out the side door, avoiding the box-full-of-desk-trinkets walk of shame. Sallie Krawcheck, one of the most senior women on Wall Street, wasn’t allowed to leave quietly. In fact, both times she was canned, the story was plastered on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. This was a reward for a woman who’d once been told her strong work ethic was off-putting to others on the leadership team. Fired at Citigroup, where she ran the wealth-management business, Krawcheck was told that her profile was too high. Next, she found herself reorganized out of her job as president of wealth management at Bank of America. Shortly thereafter, she told an interviewer, “I thought to myself, ‘What if I don’t come back? What if I don’t make it?’ But then, just a minute later, I was like, ‘No, because I’m just not going to give up until I do.’ ” She analyzed the people she’d been working with (men) and concluded that there was an investing gender gap. Channeling her outrage, she founded Ellevest, a digital investment platform and network for women. A few years later, Ellevest now boasts 440,000 registered users and $740 million in assets under management.
From the Winter 2020/2021 issue of Inc. Magazine