GEORGETOWN, TEXAS — DURING Operation Desert Shield, Jack Hovden and his wife watched a news report about Americans working for Saudi Aramco, the national oil company of Saudi Arabia. Interesting life, Mr. Hovden commented. But he shrugged at his wife's offhand suggestion to apply.
Life was already good in Georgetown, a one-half-hour drive north of Austin. The Hovdens could take their beautifully restored '56 Thunderbird for a hill country ramble, then relax in the hot tub on the patio of their elegant home.
Furthermore, Hovden seemed solidly established at Fisher Controls, the company he joined after earning his electrical engineering degree from the University of Houston. In two decades there, he had become a senior project manager, overseeing the work of engineers, technicians, and programmers in setting up million-dollar computerized control systems for petrochemical plants. But the recession made work scarce. A layoff was rumored.
July 15 began as "a normal Monday morning," Hovden recalls. "By 8:30 a.m. my boss was sitting in my office with the door closed, telling me there was going to be a layoff and that I was going to be affected."
Hovden was shocked to be among the 60 people out of a staff of 500 who were escorted from their offices to a brief meeting with a "total stranger" from an outplacement agency, and then to the parking lot. "It was pretty cold," he says.
The rest of the day was spent numbly working in the yard. Hovden tried not to think about others who should have been let go first, or about individuals whom he suspected of helping to get him axed. He wondered whether he could get another job he liked, that would pay as well as the one he'd just lost. As for his wife, "she was extremely upset. For days. Weeks."
Hovden, though, didn't mourn for long. He could rely on nine months of severance pay, plus job-hunting assistance from the outplacement agency. Resolving to make a job of finding a job, he continued to dress in a suit. He listened to motivational tapes during the drive to the outplacement center, where he put in eight-hour days. The staff at the outplacement service helped sharpen his interviewing skills, typed his resumes, and provided a telephone for long-distance calls. Without that support, he might have begun to slack off, Hovden says.
His first job offer came three months later. But Hovden had researched the company and found it to have "bigtime" financial problems. "Boy, I don't want to be be back in this boat again," Hovden recalls thinking. So he turned it down.
The offer helped his confidence, but his exhaustive search of local employers, had turned up nothing. In January he decided to expand the scope of his search.
It worked: By last month, just as his severance pay was running out, Hovden had received four offers. The one he accepted - from Saudi Aramco - came with a salary increase of 10 to 20 percent.
"There is life after layoff," Hovden says. "You have to be persistent and patient. There will eventually be a payoff."