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May 15, 1988|CARLA LAZZARESCHI | Times Staff Writer

Peter Lomenzo, a former senior vice president of Great Western Savings, was fired late last year after he and his superiors repeatedly clashed over business strategy. Although hurt and surprised, Lomenzo was hardly devastated.

Now the head of a Santa Monica industrial film company, he looks back with a philosophical shrug: "This kind of thing happens to a lot of good people."

Indeed. The ax has fallen on Lee Iacocca, Sally Quinn and Steven Jobs. Billy Martin has been sacked a half dozen times. And the odds are increasing that you, too, will lose a job at some point in your career.

"More and more people are realizing that cradle-to-grave employment is a myth," says Anthony Kane, owner and president of Univance, a Century City firm that specializes in finding jobs for fired or laid-off workers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American today will work for 10 different employers, keep each job only 3.6 years and change his entire career three times before retirement.

"Today we say job security is three to five years," says Robert D. Oberlander, a management consultant with RMA Consulting in San Marino.

It's just not unusual for a person to be out of a job these days. Paul Hirsch, author of the book "Pack Your Own Parachute," estimates that well over 2 million American workers saw their jobs disappear or deteriorate as a result of takeovers, forced mergers and other restructurings between 1984 and 1987.

Furthermore, Hirsch says that during the same time nearly 10,000 companies were sold to new owners, affecting millions of other workers. He foresees more of the same consolidation.

So, now that we know that the job scene is tough and getting even tougher, what do we do? A whole industry, drawn in large part from the ranks of the jobless, has sprung up to help today's uneasy employees cope with their growing sense of vulnerability.

The message from these self-appointed gurus: Be prepared for the worst; learn from your mistakes and those of your co-workers, and, most importantly, do not think of yourself as a failure just because you are temporarily--and that is the key word--unemployed.

Consider how Billy Martin, whose career as a major league baseball manager has been nothing if not uneven, explains his six firings in the past 20 years.

While admitting that his work record is a bit spotty, Martin, who this season is on his fifth tour of duty with the New York Yankees, prefers instead to dwell on the positive. "All Billy says is that for every time he's been fired, there's been someone willing to hire him," reports a Yankee spokesman.

Some of the new-age job advisers even tout getting fired as a potentially career-expanding and liberating experience.

"It can be a wonderful experience if you're smart," says Carole Hyatt, co-author of "When Smart People Fail" and a popular career-counseling lecturer. "When you get fired, you just have to remember that this world isn't about winners and losers. It's about learners and non-learners."

Hyatt doesn't have to look far to support her thesis.

Lee Iacocca found a rather nice job at Chrysler and was accorded sainthood status for a time after rescuing the formerly troubled auto maker from financial ruin.

After being sacked as co-anchor of the CBS early morning show in the mid-1970s, Sally Quinn returned to her award-winning feature writing work at the Washington Post--then turned her experiences into a best-selling book.

Steven Jobs hung around Apple Computer Co. for a few months after being dumped as chairman of the personal computer maker in 1985. But, within a few months, Jobs walked away from the company he had helped found in 1977 to start a new venture, Next Computer, which is expected to hit the market with its first product later this year.

In fact, for many people, getting fired does turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to them. Take the case of Linda Gottlieb, a 48-year-old former Phi Beta Kappa key holder in college, career fast-tracker, and all-around super-achiever.

After working for the same film executive for 20 years, Gottlieb was unceremoniously dumped in 1984 when the film company's fortunes soured and the traits which had once so endeared her to her boss--a sharp tongue and tough mind--suddenly began grating on his nerves.

Abruptly set to sail in what were, for her, the uncharted waters of failure, Gottlieb quickly started looking for bearings and lessons. Within several months she teamed up with Hyatt, an old friend and New York City neighbor, to write "When Smart People Fail." The book, which has sold 50,000 hard-cover copies, was recently released in paperback and is already on several best-seller lists.

But Gottlieb wanted to get back into film, so she started her own production company, Linda Gottlieb Productions. Her first film was "Dirty Dancing," the teen blockbuster that has become the largest-grossing independently produced film ever, with total worldwide box office receipts of nearly $140 million.

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