Ex-Goldman Sachs banker describes an MD on the verge of burnout

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Ex-Goldman Sachs banker describes an MD on the verge of burnout

What does it feel like to burn out when you're a managing director in an investment bank? Andrew Stead, a former executive director at Goldman Sachs and ex-head of European convertible bond trading, doesn't know himself - but he knows a man who does.

As we've reported before, Stead no longer works in banking. He left the industry after nearly 10 years in 2004 and is now a coach specializing in happiness. It's in his new capacity that Stead encountered a managing director (MD) in a sales role who was on the verge of a breakdown.

The MD in question was aged in his late 40s, had two kids, a "brilliant banking career" and a spouse of 15 years, says Stead in his blog. He was one of the highest revenue generators in his office and had quadrupled the size of the business in the time he'd been with the bank. But not all was well.

Lifestyle costs meant the MD had to stay in his role - school fees were on the horizon. Travel seems to have been a requirement: the MD was working across three continents. And stress and exhaustion were getting the better of him.

The MD was, "struggling with stress so much that he was experiencing anxiety attacks, both at the home and in the office," says Stead. He wouldn't leave the house at weekends, but would lie "exhausted in bed" and "barely get up for meals." Because of this, the MD was losing his connection with his children - and with his wife who was frustrated and concerned by his isolation. He was on the verge of a divorce. 

Things weren't much better in the office. Although the MD was holding it together at work, Stead says he'd occasionally forget appointments, confuse client details and explode in anger at his team. He was on his third PA in a year. 

What can be done in this situation? Stead would clearly advocate an intervention by someone like him, who understands the industry. He told us previously that banks tend to attract and hire a certain personality type - typically "insecure overachievers" who are "very capable, willing to work long hours," and who don't have a stop button.

In the case of this particular, MD, Stead says the first step was to "release the intense stress" and to enable him to breathe again. They worked on "mind exercises" and on emotions to help release his anger. Then the MD discovered Tai Chi. "With calm restored he dramatically altered his business and personal relationships and began to feel back on track," says Stead. 

The process wasn't easy. Like most successful men, Stead says the MD wasn't honest with himself about the gravity of his situation. Nor was he keen on seeking help, perceiving that it would jeopardize not only his career but his compensation. 

Stead told us previously that stepping away from compensation as a measure of happiness is important if you work in banking.  "The most obvious problem in banking is that people become money-obsessed," he said. "When you leave university it doesn't seem like a bad thing to be earning decent money, but five or 10 years later money becomes the single benchmark by which you evaluate your life." 

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Photo by Kayle Kaupanger on Unsplash

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