04/11/2012 05:42 pm ET Updated Jun 22, 2012

Patina: Experience Trumps Youth In This Company

Imagine a universe where those who are post 50 are pursued for their experience, where those who don't have at least 20 years of experience needn't bother applying, and where gray hairs serve as a badge of honor and respect.

Henry Ford famously said, "If you take out all of the experience of people over 50 in the world, there wouldn’t be enough left to run it." That's the philosophy of Patina Solutions, a Wisconsin-based placement firm that connects experienced executives to temporary jobs around the world. In a business model that predates the recession, Patina figured out that boomers might approach retirement differently -- that they might want to continue working and putting their knowledge to use, but perhaps not at a full-time job.

Instead of seeing those with decades of experience as over the hill, Patina places them with top companies that want someone with precisely that level of senior management experience to oversee a project. Patina has a roster of about 4,000 carefully screened employees ready to take on temporary projects, and workers earn $75 to $150 per hour, according to a spokesperson. While some got caught in the crosshairs of recession layoffs, the vast majority are executives who want to not be tied to a single company and instead enjoy the flexibility of working when they want.

Critics might say Patina Solutions is fueling the gig economy, allowing companies to get by without creating new jobs, and without paying for full-time workers' health and vacation packages. But Patina co-founder Deborah Seeger said the company predates the economic downturn and was built on a different business model: one that reflects boomers' changing attitudes toward working past traditional retirement age. The company only places top level executives in time-fixed projects.

Pat Eichten of Milwaukee, just turned 52 and has 30 years of experience as a marketer for a large consumer packaged-goods company. She left her day job about three years ago because she felt she had accomplished her goals at that company and was ready to move into the next chapter of her life.

Since joining Patina, Eichten has done market research for new product development for a consumer packaged goods firm; worked at a startup, researching the market the firm wanted to break into; developed a marketing plan for a private school; and worked as a fill-in when an employee left, enabling the company to keep particularly important projects on pace while they sought a full-time replacement.

"The lifestyle appeals to me," Eichten said of her temporary gigs, adding that she's enjoyed the opportunity to work for some top-ranking companies. "I'm seasoned and the companies are always impressed because I can get through the work a lot faster. For me, this has been great." The flexible schedule allowed her to take a major trip to explore Alaska.

Patina also sent a senior-level executive to Shanghai for seven months to support a company's new finance leader with an organizational transformation. The new employee had never been to China before, but the Patina professional had many times.

In another case, a hiring manager for a large company quit unexpectedly. Patina supplied an experienced HR manager to bridge the gap so the company didn't fall behind and the union steward had someone to go to with daily plant issues.

In each case, said the Patina spokeswoman, the company needed someone with experience, but not a full-time permanent employee.