Bob Cluff wasn't laid off from an oil company, but when his wife got hit by the downsizing trend and lost her job with a large independent oil firm in Denver in 1985 the couple had to make some hard choices about their future.
"I'm a little atypical I suppose," he said. "After graduating in the late 1970s I went to work for the Illinois Geological Survey. I left the survey in 1981 to become and independent geologist, so when my wife was laid off I had a business established."
For them, the transition year came in 1986, when oil prices collapsed.
"I was working on a large project in North Dakota that carried us through, and my wife was trying to find a new job in the industry -- a difficult task to say the least. At the same time we had a baby in diapers and a second on the way, so a traditional job was looking less and less attractive to Sue."
The couple evaluated their options and decided to form a company together. In late 1987 they started The Discovery Group in Denver, and haven't looked back.
"We are a specialty consulting group, integrating geologic data, wireline logs and core information into reservoir characterization studies for all sizes of oil companies and engineering firms.
"That transition was one of those funny things in life. When we got married and I decided to start consulting Sue had a good paying, steady job. She was the parachute and I was the guy hanging out on the edge taking risks. Then 1986 came along and the situation flipped 180 degrees. It turned out that my already being established as a consultant with an understanding of how to market consulting services and how to run an independent business -- all the mundane things like accounting and taxes -- was a lifesaver," Cluff said.
"My background made the transition reasonably smooth for us because I already had five years under my belt as an independent business man. I had taken courses on running a small business all along."
All the same, it was a difficult and very anxious time when Sue Cluff lost her job.
"When Sue was laid off it was a shock," he said. "It came out of the blue and we had no time to prepare for that possibility. There was a pretty high level of anxiety during that 18 months after she was let go and we got on our feet with The Discovery Group.
"I wouldn't recommend anybody do what we've done without substantial savings to fall back on. There is a significant ramping up period before a new business is generating enough income to support you."
Cluff said the most difficult aspect of building the business is developing a clientele.
"We had a jump start from my work as a consultant, but it's taken years to build the sizeable clientele we have today," he said. "We did capitalize on opportunities that came up during the downturn as oil companies rearranged and broke a lot of existing relationships with outside contractors. The trend toward outsourcing has certainly benefited our business and the consulting business in general."
Today The Discovery Group has grown to five full-time geologists and petrophysicists, including the Cluffs. Bob Cluff is president and his wife is vice president of the international consulting company.