Find ways to make money while still having the flexibility of schedule you want in your life. I know some folks who say they don’t want to work Friday or Monday ever again — but will gladly work hard on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I love that philosophy!
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Retirees Say They Wish They Were Told Before They Began Retirement” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Harris.
Mike is an entrepreneur and the CEO of Patina Solutions, a national executive services firm providing proven talent to companies primarily for consulting, interim leadership roles and executive search. Mike also leads Patina Nation, the online community for executives over 50 to earn, learn, share and connect together. Both Patina entities are purpose built for executives with more than 25 years of practical operating experience.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I grew up with no family history of entrepreneurship. I studied accounting, got a job as an auditor with Ernst and Young, and became a CPA. My interest in start-ups grew when I went to work for a venture capital (VC) firm called Wind Point Partners. The firm would back people who had ideas and were just getting started with their businesses.
On Monday afternoons, the VC partners would meet with individuals who were producing business plans and wanted funding. There’d be a team from Wind Point to review and question entrepreneurs who made pitches. I used to ask if I could go to these pitch meetings even though I was not an investment partner. I really enjoyed the process and got to see so many different entrepreneurs in action. Some were prepared. Some were definitely not. Some were too cocky. Some were too humble. I watched as my colleagues asked questions and grilled folks to test their commitment, passion, cool under pressure and more.
I became more involved once the VC partners started their due diligence and financial modeling to support the decision to invest or not. That was really the first time I had ever experienced anything entrepreneurial in my life. That whole experience was formative and quite impactful on me — and it would soon change the direction of my career and life. Lesson learned — don’t wait to be invited — ask if you can attend if you have an interest in learning about something.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I would say a five-minute phone call followed by one cold beer. That was how I raised $3 million to start Jefferson Wells, my most successful company so far. At the time of the call — I was the CFO of Alternative Resources (ARC) and we had just gone public and I was on top of the world. But I felt it was time for me to start my own company to prove to myself that I could do it — so I called Bob Blank, a VC friend of mine who told me over one cold beer he would back me in starting Jefferson Wells based on how well we had done at ARC (Bob was an investor in ARC). One phone call and one cold beer — and five years later — we had us a $132 million company that Manpower bought for $174 million. That was the best beer I have ever had!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I learned a lot from my boss Larry Kane, who was the founder and CEO of Alternative Resources Corporation (ARC). I was his right-hand man and CFO and he let me get involved in all aspects of the business, including sales and marketing. I saw the many things Larry did very well — and I saw how I would do things differently in some cases. I stated to believe that I could take what I learned and apply it in my own company someday. From building a culture, to deciding when to stay close to the details or when to get out of the way in order for an organization to grow without too much control from the founder. Others helped me along the way too — but Larry was the key mentor for me. We all need someone like him who gives us the opportunity to expand our horizons.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
I believe a successful entrepreneur has to think big and small all in the same day. You need to paint a vision that gets investors, employees and others excited about the potential and the future — and you must stay close enough to the details to have a true handle on a wide variety of matters. I also set high standards for my companies from day one — no typos, high ethics, etc. — and I insist all of us act like the company we want to become someday. The entrepreneurs I see fail or underachieve are usually serious control freaks — or all they do is work. I love to work — but I also love to play and that helps me stay sane and keep fired up.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Don’t micro-manage employees. Expect excellence in everything the company does. Lead by example. Stand up for your people. Have fun. Celebrate successes. Recognize hard work and achievement. Be fair. Be consistent. And for the founders and key leaders — keep the flame burning because if you lose hope or confidence — your team will too.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact nearly every aspect of one’s life. Obviously everyone’s experience is different. But in your experience, what are the 5 most common things that people wish someone told them before they retired?
First of all — I am not retired. I did retire for one day in 2001 when I was 40 years old and sold my company — but I quickly got back into the action (and my wife was very happy that I did). I actually hope I never fully retire.
Here are my thoughts:
- Keep learning and stay current including with technology.
- Mentor others and pass along your knowledge and wisdom.
- Keep working in new and creative ways using the experiences, skills and talents you’ve built over your lifetime.
- Be flexible with your precious time to find the things you want to do, when you want to do them.
- Be part of a solid network — a community to belong to, connect with and who can help you reach your goals.
Patina talks with many professionals who have fully or partially retired or are considering full retirement. We often find they crave the freedom to choose work opportunities where their experience is relevant and highly valued. The acceptance and use of on-demand or “gig” workers has enabled this more flexible approach for many people.
These Professionals tell us anything from “I want to gain insights in new industries,” to “it’s fun to work with new groups of colleagues on projects who care deeply about their client and want to see them grow and succeed.”
Many Professionals are doing consulting for the first time in their careers. I always suggest they take it seriously and learn how great consultants deliver results. It is always about more than one’s knowledge — it is also about how you communicate and your consulting “bedside manner.”
Let’s zoom in on this a bit. If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important financial issues to keep in mind before they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?
- Keep an incoming earnings stream if you can. So many of us have worked for so long — it is often how we get satisfaction and feel like we are contributing and relevant. Plus — you can never have enough money.
- Find ways to make money while still having the flexibility of schedule you want in your life. I know some folks who say they don’t want to work Friday or Monday ever again — but will gladly work hard on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I love that philosophy!
- Find strategies to manage your personal funds and resources wisely. Align with the right advisors and partners. Don’t get too conservative though.
We’ve built a community for professionals 50 and older who want to stay engaged in all these areas. It’s called Patina Nation. Some of our members want to work only a few days a month and others will work full-time doing consulting or filling is as interim executive for a client.
Members of Patina Nation participate mainly online to keep learning through forums where they’re sharing ideas and taking part in webinars covering anything from financial management, to social media lessons and consulting or networking tips.
As a fast growing and large community, Patina Nation members are offered 401(k) options, access to group medical insurance and wealth management advice — plus we have several excellent ways for members to make money with us. It’s a great community for Baby Boomers as they begin to think about working differently or semi-retiring — but are still in high demand to transfer their knowledge to help develop the next generations of leaders.
We’re having a lot of fun and seeing success stories as thousands of executives work and connect together online at Patina Nation. There’s collaboration among leaders with backgrounds in healthcare, supply chain and manufacturing, accounting, coaching and so much more. Really, we’re seeing everyone from all corners of the business world join together. Representatives of nearly every position within every industry are involved in Patina Nation. They’re working with each other, their own clients, and clients of Patina Solutions. I’d encourage anyone with 25 years or more of business experience to become a member of Patina Nation. And it’s priced just right — free!
If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important health issues to keep in mind before they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?
Exercise alone every day, exercise with friends as much as humanly possible and do all the recommended annual checkups and tests.
If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important things to consider before choosing a place to live after they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?
This is not something I feel very qualified to report on as I live in Wisconsin and have a second home in Wisconsin too — what, am I crazy, boring or both? I do admire people who move to a new location where they have to start over with building friendships and connections. Personally — I like to stay close to my friends and family — I can always go away for a month to a warm location — but I want to come back home where I belong and have deep roots.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am very excited about the over-50 crowd coming together to be the best executives they can be while embracing and participating in the gig or on-demand economy. The ranks of independent consultants, gig-by-gig professionals and freelance workers have exploded into the millions. One of the fastest growing segments of independent workers is at the executive level who earn over $100,000 a year. Patina Nation has found a niche by attracting, engaging, supporting, connecting, leveraging and compensating a national community of independent executive consultants. This is a place we built for them where they can truly belong and gain peers from around the USA.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I learned so much when working on my one and only book, “Career 180s — Inspiring Stories of Bold Career Changes.” Ten brave people shared their stories with me, each who made a major career change after dedicating their working lives to their initial successful career. Recurring themes include the move from success to significance, leveraging a lifetime of skills and experiences to solve big problems and to make a positive impact. These ten folks show all of us you can go in an entirely new direction, no matter what your age or status may be.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media? Join our community at PatinaNation.com for a steady stream of ideas and opportunities. That’s the best and fastest way we can connect and share. Also — please send me a LinkedIn invitation to Mike Harris — CEO which is my profile for members of the Patina Nation.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!