head against the wall. Then came the shotgun incident. The
final straw was the night they got into an argument on the way
to drop o; Larry Jr. with her parents. She says Larry hit her
across the face, dumped her in her parents’ driveway with the
baby, her face covered in blood, and sped o;. (In a taped interview with Inc., Larry acknowledged hitting Tana during their
marriage, but declined to recall specifics: “I’ve done enough
and I’ve paid enough of a price.” He denied grabbing her by
the throat. When asked to confirm other incidents, he hung
up, and later texted a reporter: “Told you they were lies so file
it under fiction.”)
With the encouragement of her family, she filed for separation. The couple were divorced on January 4, 1977, a month
shy of Tana’s 18th birthday.
In the aftermath, she says, she felt humiliated and angry, but
not hopeless. She sat down and wrote out her goals on a piece of
paper: Finish school. Buy my own house by age 25. Get married.
Own my own business by age 30.
“I wanted something more for myself,” she says. “And I
saw that the only way I could truly rise up the ladder was to
build one of my own.” O;VER THE NEXT FE W YEARS, Tana got her associate’s degree in secretarial work at Commonwealth College, a community college in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and landed a job working for an executive at a regional motel chain, and then at that company’s ad agency. The admissions director at Common- wealth, with whom she’d kept in touch, noticed her apid career progress and asked her if she wanted to
recruit for the school. Tana realized she had an innate talent
for sales—for meeting people where they were and showing
them what the future could look like.
The prospective Commonwealth students she met with
weren’t young people with stable families and shiny futures.
They were strugglers and strivers. “I could speak so clearly to
them. I could uncover what people’s pain was,” she says. So
often, their pain was familiar. “The pain was hurt pride—the
feeling that ‘I don’t have anything to o;er because I don’t have
a skill.’ To me, the work was all about raising somebody’s
self-esteem.” She was very good at it. In her first year, she
made more than $30,000 in commissions. When she was 22,
she put a down payment on a townhouse in Virginia Beach,
three years ahead of schedule.
A year later, she met Mike Greene. He was 31, never
married, and traveled from city to city for his job as a safety
and health adviser to nuclear power plants. She thought he
was charming and ambitious, like her. They decided to try
a long-distance relationship. She was making good money,
Larry Jr. was 7, and she had found a good man. The future she
had envisioned for herself was taking shape.
Tana and Larry Jr. soon moved to California with Mike,
whom she married in 1985. All that was left on her list of life
goals was to own her own business. So together, Tana and
Mike decided to buy a franchise of a California-based clerical
sta;ng company, Remedy, and bring the concept back to
Virginia Beach. The job would leverage Tana’s recruiting
skills, and the franchiser could help them with skills that were
less familiar, such as marketing and contract bidding. They’d
move into Tana’s townhouse to save money.
Those first years were a struggle, especially winning new
business. Turning a profit felt nearly impossible. The Greenes
went two years without drawing a salary. After they won their
first big piece of business—a contract to sta; 375 laborers,
fire-watch personnel, pipe fitters, and welders at a Norfolk
shipyard—they realized they didn’t have enough cash to make
the hires. They believed that bootstrapping their business was
the way to go—“We’d been raised to think you don’t borrow
a dime from anybody,” Tana says—but they had spent all their
savings. They had to get a loan secured against receivables to
pay the new sta;. The interest payments plus the franchise fee
wiped out any margin they’d included in their aggressive bid.
She and Mike learned one hard business lesson after another.
The couple scrimped and scraped, slowly putting the
company on firmer ground. When Remedy’s Charlotte franchise was put up for sale, they bought it and sold the one in
Virginia Beach, glad to leave the area behind. When their
franchise agreement expired in 2002, they ditched Remedy
and renamed themselves Strataforce.
Meanwhile, Tana was proving skilled at hiring and managing sta;. She was intuitive, attuned to people’s motivations, and
able to inspire them about the future. Soon, Strataforce was
generating about $10 million in sales and turning a tidy profit.
Larry Jr. was grown up, and Tana and Mike had their own
young daughter, Kelly.
Still, something was missing. At Strataforce, she felt like she
was playing a part. Even though she was president and owned
51 percent of the company, for years Mike had been the outward
face of the company, the de facto leader. He made the sales calls
and met with clients. Tana focused inwardly on operations and
motivating people one-on-one.
“I just didn’t have the self-esteem,” says Tana. “I worried
I wasn’t going to sound educated. I didn’t want to tell anybody
that I didn’t go to a good school. I feared people would think
less of me or decide I was incapable—like, ‘Oh, she doesn’t
have the pedigree for this.’ ”
Even though she had accomplished every one of the goals
she’d written down at age 17, true happiness eluded her.
The Greenes hired an executive coach, Brenda Anderson,
to help them. Anderson encouraged Tana to embrace her
leadership role, but Tana remained hesitant and awkward.
“She was like a little girl putting on her mom’s high heels and
trying to walk in them,” Anderson says.
Then, in 2007, a friend asked her a favor: Would she tell
her life story—about Larry, about her escape—to a group of
high school students? At that point, she had shared the story
INSPIRATION CHRONICLES ; LEAD