How Australia’s Microsoft Man Became the Voice of Work-Life Balance - Hope 103.2

How Australia’s Microsoft Man Became the Voice of Work-Life Balance

Daniel Petre was a corporate high flyer, when a family tragedy made him realise what's important in life. He now writes and speaks on work-life balance.

By Clare BruceTuesday 31 Oct 2017Hope MorningsHealth and WellbeingReading Time: 4 minutes

Listen: Katrina Roe chats with tech innovation leader and work-life-balance guru Daniel Petre. Image: Airtree 

Daniel Petre was working in Seattle, alongside Bill Gates, as Vice President of Microsoft: a rare Australian leader in in corporate America. In terms of dollars and career goals, he was rolling in it.

But then came the great turning point of his life: his sister died in a car crash – “the most beautiful person you can imagine”. Amid the grieving, Daniel had to help choose the words for her tombstone. It was then that he realised there was far more to life than money and corporate success.

“I thought, ‘what would people put on my tombstone, if I was to drop dead?’,” Daniel said in an interview with Hope 103.2. “What occurred to me was that I didn’t want it to just say ‘he was a very successful technology executive’. I desperately wanted it to say that ‘he was successful at work, but he was a great father, he was a great spouse, he was a wonderful friend, he gave back to the community’.”

The Turning Point of his Life

It was a watershed in the business leader’s life that made him into an authority on the topic of work-life balance.

“Her death woke me up to [realising] there’s more to life, and there are actually more important things than work, and you can, if you’re prepared to make sacrifices, you can try to do well at more than just one thing in life. You can try to be successful at work but also try to be a really good Dad, and a really good spouse and a good friend and a good member of the community.”

Author of the books Father Time and What Matters: Success and Work Life Balance, Daniel is still a corporate leader, now the joint founder of the venture capital firm, Airtree. Last year he was named last year as “the most powerful player in the Australian technology investment space” along with his co-founder, Craig Blair.

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But he’s still committed to keeping the balance right in his life, and helping others do the same. He’ll be speaking on the topic at the next Pathfinders Business Breakfast, on November 10.

Business Leaders are Still Too Focussed on Profit

Executive man working late at night

Daniel says he is nearly always received well by employees who want to get the balance right, but is often rejected by CEO’s who feel his message is a threat to a successful work environment.

The culture in the corporate world has begun to change since he first wrote Father Time more than 20 years ago—but more still needs to change.

“These are people who have long ago given up loving relationships, and traded them for money and power.” ~Daniel Petre

“The majority of people do not want to be bad parents or bad friends. But the majority of the leaders of our businesses, are in fact bad parents and bad friends,” he said.  “They focus too much of their time on work and then expect everyone else to follow suit. So they’re terrible role models. This [trend] is still relatively consistent.

“These are people who have long ago given up loving relationships, and traded [them for] money and power. And often they don’t even know they’ve done that. And they then expect everyone else to behave accordingly.

“The reality is, whether you make a conscious decision or not, by behaving a certain way you’re making a decision about what’s more important in your life.”

A Call to End Workplace Sexual Harrassment

Daniel Petre has been vocal in the media of late about the dark side of venture capitalism: sexual harassment. He said the power they hold has turned many into predators.

“The problem with venture capitalists is that we have a pile of money from our investors, who expect a return, and on the other side of the transaction is, you have lots of small startups, desperate for investment,” he said. “And if misused, that is a power relationship that’s very, very unhealthy.

“So it is your responsibility as a venture capitalist to make sure you treat that relationship on a fair, honest and respectful basis. Generally speaking some of these firms do not, and people in that position of power use it appallingly in terms of bullying and harassment. There are many cases in the US that have come to light where men – and it’s always men – have used that power to sexually harass startup founders.”

He has made a stand, committing to zero tolerance of bullying of all kinds.

“As a father of three young women and as a person who has hated the idea of bullying and harassment in any form, I find it appalling that people do that. We need to make sure that the Australian venture does not follow the path of the US where you’ve seen a series of assault claims coming out on a regular basis.”