It's been nearly 20 years since Tory Johnson was canned from her job as a publicist for NBC News during a management change, and she's still suffering from what she dubs "post-traumatic pink slip" disorder.
"How can everyone like you and you're getting positive reviews and then someone says we don't want you anymore? It left a permanent scar," said the entrepreneur, author and "Good Morning America" contributing reporter who now spends much of her time encouraging women to launch their own enterprises in order to shield themselves from the uncertain whims of corporate hierarchy.
Ms. Johnson, who found positions at other media companies before striking out on her own in 1999 to form career fair production company Women for Hire, will bring her small-business road show, Spark & Hustle, to town Thursday with a daylong event at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Green Tree.
Other entrepreneurs will join her in trying to engage attendees in what she described as "a candid conversation more than a conference."
In other words, don't show up expecting to merely jot down notes and mingle a bit with those seated at your lunch table.
Though speakers and panel discussions will cover key topics such as branding, marketing, sales, financing and how to deal with the fear of business ownership, Ms. Johnson said, presentations will be limited to allow time for lots of questions and remarks from the attendees.
"I will disagree with people, ask a lot of follow-up questions and choose people to ask questions if no one asks any," Ms. Johnson said in a phone interview from Boston where she was preparing for another Spark & Hustle event this week.
She'll also encourage attendees to move around to different tables instead of staying with people they know.
"Being talked at is not my style or my preference as an attendee. I think people learn best by talking and engaging rather than sitting there," she said.
Among the presenters scheduled for the Pittsburgh event are Lynsie Campbell, co-founder of Downtown-based online ticketing service ShowClix; Molly Enos, founder of Paul Bunyan Maple Syrup, Rockwood, Somerset County; and Rebecca Harris, director of the Center for Women's Entrepreneurship at Chatham University who started and ran several companies before joining the university.
Pittsburgh is the last stop on a 20-city tour under way since May that also has served to promote Ms. Johnson's new book, "Spark & Hustle," published by Penguin Group. In it, she candidly recounts how she hid in her apartment with the shades drawn and consumed Haagen-Dazs ice cream in front of the TV set after being let go by NBC.
It was a dramatic reality check for Ms. Johnson, now 41, who had quit Emerson College to join ABC News full-time after a summer internship at that network's "20/20" program. She was later recruited to NBC where she did publicity work for some of the network's big names at the time, including Tim Russert, Jane Pauley and Maria Shriver, while based at NBC headquarters in Rockefeller Center.
Though she eventually landed public relations and marketing positions at Nickelodeon and a startup magazine, she had recurring nightmares about being laid off again, "because I was still on someone else's payroll."
When she was pregnant with twins at age 26, the desire to control her own career destiny became an obsession. So, despite not having a college degree or any real business experience, she used $5,000 of her and her husband's total savings of $7,000 and founded the career fair company.
She hasn't looked back. "I've loved the path I've been on; I wouldn't change anything."
She doesn't regret dropping out of college and tells lots of clients at recruitment fairs that earning an MBA isn't always critical to success.
"By the time somebody comes to me, they need to start making money right away. They don't have time to get the MBA or shouldn't be saddled with the debt. Which isn't to knock anyone pursuing an MBA or anyone who has one. It's just not always a viable solution."
To register and for more information, go to www.sparkandhustle.com.
Joyce Gannon: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1580.