How you were fired isn't as important as what you do after it happens. "I was nervous," says 49-year-old Barry Brinker, "but my philosophy has always been that change is good, and without change, there is no growth, so I was excited as well as nervous."
Brinker was the director of new product development for a large accessories manufacturer in Cincinnati when everybody learned the firm had been sold to a company in Boston. Some employees were asked to relocate--the rest were told to keep in touch and drop in if they ever came up to see a Patriots game. Brinker was panicked. Well into his 30s, he feared that prospective employers would regard him as a man with too much experience and requiring too large a salary to hire.
Brinker had traveled a lot for his job, including visits to Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and it was in the latter location that he had established a lot of friends and contacts during his 11 years of working for the company. Feeling like he had no options in Cincinnati, he traveled to Hong Kong, hoping to find work. He did. With a contact in Hong Kong, he started his own business, designing and manufacturing handbags and baggage.
Not that it was a completely simple matter. "It's amazing how different it is going to a foreign country alone and with almost no support, compared to traveling there on an expense account, staying in nice hotels, and having a driver," says Brinker, who had to sleep on a lot of friends' sofas.
But it wasn't until Brinker started his second business in 1999 (the first one imploded under a series of disagreements with his partner) that he really found his stride. With some seed money from his first business, he was able to jump-start BB International, a fledgling operation at first but now a million-dollar operation in Los Angeles for which Brinker designs jewelry that is sold in Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and boutiques across the country.
"Being fired was the best thing that ever happened to me," says Brinker, who feels that without that shove, he wouldn't be where he is today. It was frightening at first, he concedes. "During the first year of starting BB, the money wasn't coming in, and there were weeks that would go by where I'd feel like I was a loser and think that this wasn't going to work. But I'd tell myself that if I could do one important thing a day, whether it was in marketing, cold calling or whatever, I would feel accomplished. Of course, I did 20 things a day. You just end up doing that.
"When you decide to start a business, it's a little like jumping off a cliff," says Brinker. "But the good news is, when you make the jump, you've made the decision. You're falling, and there's no looking back."
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.