by Jennifer Petriglieri and Gianpiero Petriglieri
There were many late nights during Thomas’s time at a private equity firm, but two of them really stand out. On the first, he was at a bar. Earlier in the day, his boss had let him know that he was the top performer in his cohort. Over drinks that evening, he struck up a conversation with a partner at a rival firm. “You’re the guy who closed two deals in six months, aren’t you?” the man asked. It was a moment Thomas had dreamed of and worked for since leaving his small town for college, the first in his family, years before.
On the second, he was at his desk, working on a high-profile IPO. He was the only associate on the deal—the kind of assignment reserved for top talent on the firm’s fast track to partnership. Dawn was breaking, and he had no memory of the past six hours, even though his e-mail and phone logs chronicled a busy all-nighter. A neurologist later ran some tests and warned him of the dangers of sleep deprivation. “I would go to bed at five, wake up at seven with palpitations, and go to work,” Thomas recalled. “I never stopped to think that it was wrong. It’s how it works, I told myself. Everyone does it.”
Thomas slowed down briefly after the doctor’s warning but soon came back full throttle. His talent and drive were intact, though somehow he’d lost his sense of purpose. He created an opportunity for the firm to do a $1.3 billion deal, and then surprised his bosses by suddenly quitting. His performance was strong and his prospects bright as ever, but as he put it when we spoke, he had fallen victim to a vicious cycle: “I did not want to step off the fast track, so I could not slow down.” Thomas felt trapped by his firm’s expectations, but his desire to prove deserving of his bosses’ endorsement kept him from challenging the culture or asking for support. He felt both overwhelmed and underutilized, and concluded that this firm was not the right place to realize his leadership ambitions. Continue reading