WORKPLACE : Layoffs Create Many Instant Entrepreneurs Seeking Self-Defense

Compiled by Michael Flagg, Times staff writer

A lot of local executives are starting their own businesses after being laid off.

So says Rex T. Olsen, president of a Newport Beach outplacement firm. Olsen has helped executives start companies as diverse as a sailboat rental business in San Diego and a pasta factory in Riverside County that sells to local Italian restaurants.

"Starting your own company is as much for security as anything else these days," says Olsen, whose company, Executive Horizons Inc., is hired by employers to help their laid-off executives find jobs. "More people are realizing that all companies are downsizing; every one of the Fortune 100 has done it."

The executives who go into business for themselves tend to be higher-ranking executives rather than middle managers.

"The higher-end executives tend to already have some means to start a business," Olsen says, "plus they have a sense of already having achieved some success.

"They think: 'If I can do it here at a big company, then I can do it over here in my own company, and have more fun too.' "

Olsen says his clients have been striking out on their own more often for the past two years.

The first reaction of many laid-off executives, in fact, is to say they will never work for anyone again. After they chat with counselors such as Olsen, though, many of them realize how tough starting a business can be.

"We say, 'Do it, but do be careful,' " Olsen says.

A lot drop out at this point. But for those who are undeterred, Olsen offers help with developing business plans and finding financing.

Gaining financing "is tough, no doubt about it," Olsen says. "But it can be done."

The difficulties of getting loans, however, tend to weed out executives for whom starting a business is "just a passing fancy."

For those who persevere, there remains the problem of having to learn to live on less while the business gets going--if, in fact, it ever does get going.

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