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Ex-Goldman Sachs partner's burnout recovery lesson

Are you bored with your job? Has the fire gone from your belly? Could you conceivably be happier doing something entirely different instead? This need not be the end of your finance career. Last week, a former Goldman Sachs partner who was burned out aged 50, added several billion dollars more to his net worth aged 62.

Jon Winkelreid’s latest windfall came from the flotation of private equity firm TPG Inc, which he's managed since 2015. Winkelreid already earned $200m+ during 30 years at Goldman, according to Bloomberg. In five years at TPG he's made a lot more - he was paid $87m last year; TPG's IPO (which raised $1bn), valued the firm at $9bn and Winkelreid's stake is thought to be a considerable chunk of that.

It's not bad going for a man, who by his own admission wasn't all that excited about his big job 12 years previously. "I was about to turn 50," Winkelreid told Fortune Magazine in 2010 of his decision to quit Goldman Sachs the year before. "I was running around all over the place. This whole notion of 'Was I in the slipstream to become the CEO?' -- I imagine I was one of two candidates, and I don't know whether or not I would have gotten it. But here's the important thing: It was no longer important to me. It just wasn't ... It changed for me somewhere. I don't know where."

Instead of holding on at Goldman, where he was co-president, Winkelreid announced his retirement one Tuesday in February 2009. At the end of March, he left with what the Wall Street Journal said were "no immediate job plans." Unlike many retiring Goldman partners, Winkelreid wasn't segueing straight into another job on the buy-side. Nor, however, was he planning to do nothing at all.

Having spent 30 years in finance, where he worked in New York and London, Winkelreid spent much of the next four years at his ranches in Colorado and Texas, where he rode, bred and trained horses specialized in cutting - a sport where people on horseback separate calves from the herd. In 2010, he told Fortune he just wasn't much into finance anymore. He still read research, he still studied the markets every morning, but he didn't want to work for a Goldman again. "My next chapter, whatever it is, has to be something different," said Winkelreid at the time. 

He was in no rush. For the next three years, Winkelreid seems to have thrown himself into the ranch, horses, and cutting. A July 2010 video shows him winning the 'Summer Cutting Spectacular Classic Challenge Amateur Division.' "I've been working pretty diligently and spending some more time trying to improve my game and I see the fruits of my labor starting to pay off," says Winkelreid, whose midlife crisis seems to have manifested in powerful horses instead of Lycra or cars.  

The horse interlude didn't last, though. In 2013, the New York Times reported that Winkelreid was becoming strategic advisor to Thrive Capital, a venture capital fund and that he was advising a credit fund at TPG capital run by a former Goldman colleague. Just two months after that, Winkelreid sold a ranch and 24 horses to an automobile mogul. “We really enjoyed it. We loved the horses, we enjoyed showing and we enjoyed the friends that we’ve made, and will continue those relationships,” he told a horse publication. “We feel like right now, it [selling the horses] was the right thing for us to do.” Two years later, Winkelreid joined TPG full time as co-CEO.

So what changed? “People have constantly been asking me, ‘Are you going to get back to it?’ ” Winkelreid told the New York Times in 2015. “But it had to be the right type of opportunity. In some ways, you know it when you see it or feel it.”

At TPG, there's been little sign of the disengagement he felt at Goldman Sachs. Winkelreid steered the firm through the first stage of the pandemic and became sole CEO in 2021, taking on responsibility for the firm's day-to-day operations. His experience suggests that, managed properly, burnout can be a catalyst for bigger and better things.

Other burned out finance professionals might learn from Winkelreid's experience. In his own words, the five-year break between leaving Goldman and joining TPG was critical. "It allowed me to frankly decompress a little bit from Goldman Sachs, which was an intense 27-year run," Winkelreid told the University of Chicago Booth last year. Those five years also gave him time to think through what he wanted to do next and what he was really interested in: "You do need a little bit of space in order to sort that out."

Owning a 343 acre ranch clearly helps with space, both mental and physical. But during his fallow years, Winkelreid said he wasn't just cutting - he was also doing things like very early stage venture investing. This helped him prepare for the two advisory roles, which in turn paved the way for the full time job at TPG. He got back into the game by increments. And when he returned full time, the change of location helped - Winkelreid went from New York to Colorado to San Francisco. "San Francisco is a very different environment," he told Chicago Booth. "The inputs and the stimulus that you're kind of surrounded by are very different." 

The Winkelreid learnings are that if you're having a mid-life crisis in finance, you don't have to fight against it. - Embrace your lack of motivation, step down, step back and do something else, while keeping feelers out for the future. And if you haven't earned $200m during your finance career up to that point? Take a holiday; keep your head down; you never know, the exhaustion may pass.

Photo by Cole Winters on Unsplash

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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