Once upon a time, you might have been told that the key to success in business was to work for a company a long time, be loyal and after 20 or 30 years with the same firm you would have security and high income.

Not so, says Samuel S. Wood, who is out of a job after working for the same company 28 years. Through no fault of his own, he's joined a growing number of workers whose companies have been involved in corporate takeovers, mergers and stock market manipulations.Wood is one of about 3,400 former employees of the Safeway grocery store chain in Utah who are looking for work.

"I went to work for Safeway in the Salt Lake area in 1959 after graduating from Montpelier (Idaho) High School and worked my way up to a management job. Early last year, Safeway officials said they were trying to block a corporate takeover and had to raise money to buy up their stock so they could make their company a privately owned firm.

"They told employees they were selling their 60 stores and warehouses in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada and Oregon to raise money to buy their stock."

Wood said he was dumfounded. But he soon figured he had a new lease on life when Farmer Jack, a Detroit-based corporation, bought up the stores and gave most of the Safeway workers jobs. "I got my same job back and things looked all right - until early this year."

He said Farmer Jack told employees in January they had decided to sell the stores. "They said they had lost money and had union problems in Detroit and had to sell."

Within a few months, many, but not all, were purchased by other grocery chains and by individuals and former store managers. Wood, who was produce supervisor at a warehouse and distribution center in Salt Lake, lost his job Aug. 6 when the warehouse was closed.

"Nobody seems ready to buy it or start it up again," he said. "So I'm looking for a job. It is hard to believe that I am going to have to start all over again after working for a company 28 years, but that is what has happened. There are some former Safeway employees who are older than I am and who worked for Safeway more than 30 years who are also looking for jobs."

Wood is not discouraged and believes with his management and supervisory skills he can find a good job again soon, but he is unhappy about the work environment in America today that makes years of dedicated work for the same company meaningless.

"Companies ask you to be loyal and to give them all your effort. What are they giving in return? I found out. These days, workers have to ask themselves, "What future do I really have with this company and what real security is there?' "

The answer, Wood said, is that companies today could be bought up overnight by other firms or go out of business or merge with other companies and all promises once made by owners would go out the window.

"It wouldn't surprise me to see a lot of old line, seemingly rock-stable companies in Utah, and around the country, go under in the near future. Technology is changing fast. New companies are growing up and old companies folding up or changing hands. The work climate in America is a lot different today than when my father or grandfather were working."

Missing a paycheck can be disastrous in these times of heavy credit buying, Wood said, and the fact he has his home in Bountiful paid for is helping him now that he is looking for a job.

"Having some savings is a good idea, too," he said.

Wood suggests employees be ready to move into new jobs, hopefully in the same area of work, at any time. "You can keep your eye out for other job openings and still be loyal to your company.

"It will pay you to have friends and contacts in other businesses similar to yours - so if your company dissolves beneath your feet you will have someplace else to move."