ENTREPRENEURSHIP Laid off and going for it

Many businesses are started by people over 40.
Hussan Mowlai was laid off last year from a senior management position after 17 years with an 800-employee company. Rather than enter the job-search whirl, the 48-year-old Las Flores, Calif., resident and his wife started Neighborhood Grill and Salad Bar in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
As layoffs have increased in a slow economy, the percentage of former managers and executives starting businesses is at a six-year high, according to the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & amp; Christmas. One in nine is a new business owner, up 48 percent from a year ago.
Entrepreneurship is often considered a young person's game because of the need to work long hours and because of fewer obligations like children and a mortgage. Yet 38 percent of U.S. entrepreneurs are over age 44, reports the Global Entrepreneur Monitor Report.
"You need three fundamentals to open a business: commitment, business knowledge and capital," Mowlai said. "I always had the commitment. I didn't have the other two when I was young. It was time to build a future for us."
Mowlai had experience in business operations and customer service. His wife, Shalla, is an experienced chef. After researching the market, they decided not to open a mere sandwich shop but develop a concept for a fresh-and-fast Mediterranean-style restaurant that could be expanded to multiple locations.
A risk
"When you're young, you're more aggressive, but you don't have vision," Mowlai said. "I do my homework. I listen. I learn. Any business is a risk; when you're mature, it's a calculated risk."
An untimely layoff often pushes people over 40 into entrepreneurship.
"If it hadn't happened, I probably wouldn't have had the guts to start my business," said Robert Smith, 45, of his layoff in February after 20 years in the computer industry.
Rather than job-hunt, Smith decided to act on an idea to create children's dishware with religious themes. With four children under the age of 10, Smith washed a lot of plastic Bugs Bunny plates and wondered why no one decorated plastic plates, cups and bowls with Noah or Moses.
The resulting business, Faith by Design, is now selling seven different designs, plus Christmas plates, to religious bookstores.
"At the age of 20, I wouldn't have known anything about running a business," Smith said. "Over the years I did technical support. Especially in the past three years, I was at a smaller company so I got to do a lot of different things like public relations and marketing. That was a help."
Not everyone is pushed into business ownership. The later years become a time to pursue a passion, said Judith Plate, "58 and a half," who recently bought a Merle Norman cosmetic studio in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Her story
A longtime customer, Plate had owned a successful Merle Norman franchise about 20 years ago.
"I had gotten a divorce. I had two teen-agers to rear. I sort of panicked," Plate said. She sold the franchise and took a training job with Merle Norman's corporate office.
More recently, she had a management position with My CFO, which provides outsourced financial officer services to small to midsize companies, in Orange County, Calif.
"They were delightful and took good care of me, but I wanted to do something I really loved, and I really loved owning a Merle Norman studio," she said.
This time around, Plate thinks she is taking herself less seriously so she's having more fun. She's more patient about allowing her marketing efforts to work and has a broader perspective than when she was younger.

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