Dealing with a Dumb Senior Private Equity Co-worker who the Boss likes?

Hi guys - might be a bit of a read here but need your help and guidance. For background, I'm at a MM PE shop in a pretty small team. There are two guys above me, MD and a D. The MD and D joined at the same time and I was hired by them, one year behind them.

I enjoy working with my MD, he's astute, knows his stuff inside and out, financially, technically and has great relationships/sourcing capabilities. I don't expect anything less from individuals that are more senior than me, are on my team, are individuals that I can respect and learn from.

I am having issues with the D probably ever since I hit the 1 year mark and more frequently lately as I get to spend more time with him. He has jumped around firms probably every 2-3 years, is only 2-3 years younger than the MD (D was slow in progressing up the ladder) and has probably stayed the longest in his current firm.

On the job, he does not have a good set of core skills, is weak technically and does not have sound knowledge in his 'industry'. He is extremely slow in grasping concepts and has a poor understanding of things in general. I would read something in 10 minutes and fully understand it, he would spend a couple hours on it, and then ask me a boatload of questions on it to make sure he understands and at times, admit it to me one-on-one, 'help me understand it'. Or if I don't fully understand it, and I ask him, he would instead try to BS his way out of it. This happens so frequently I am embarrassed that he is more senior than I am and that he is my co-worker. In my years working with him, the D probably adds 5% value or less to the overall portfolio or investments. He listens to my MD's words like it's gospel and hides behind him most of the time (absorb whatever MD says and regurgitates everything back instead of having his own view), not to mention, throws me under the bus some times, i.e. I would suggest Path A, he would say take Path B and let's show Path B to the MD, MD says Path A is right because of this, this and that.

He is a good person and can converse 24/7 about non-work-related topics, knows how to 'shine other shoes well', says the right things to other senior management and always pushes and delegates responsibility to others.

Lately, I have been having more issues with him and almost can't take it anymore. In my mind, I can't believe how he can stand being in the position that he is in, not understanding anything and still have the dignity to be in this realm. I guess his uptick he is getting paid boatloads more than I am so he is trying to squeeze as much out of it as possible. I think if it all comes down to it, if my MD had to pick one of us to let go between myself and my D, he would still keep the D and let me know instead fully knowing his capabilities.

I have a couple questions stuck in my mind.
- Others or myself can totally replace him couple times over, yet the MD still keeps him around. Is my MD nonsensical or at that level, you just prefer to have a senseless dog around you instead of having a competent individual around?
- Is it because in the latter case, the MD feels threatened about his prospects since there would be competition and hence, if he keeps him around, the MD would always have the power and there would be no threat? Does that not seem really shallow from the MD perspective?
- Am I being too obnoxious thinking so little of my D? I told a friend (external to the industry) and she said I was being obnoxious and said I should look around and check the titles, because at the end of the day, I am still 'junior' to the D and I should show respect.

Any help is much appreciated. I've been bouncing off the walls trying to keep my sense of self dealing with this BS.

Comments (25)

Sep 22, 2017 - 9:40am

Not in the same industry as you but currently dealing with the same issue. More senior guys in my group are incompetent as fuck. Best thing to do is just suck it up, and when you hit that year and a half mark start looking for a new firm.

Sep 22, 2017 - 10:16am

Wish I could give you more clear direction, but what I can say is that in this industry, I have found that it is not uncommon for people to think little of their D.

"There's no reason to be the richest man in the cemetery. You can't do business from there." - Colonel Sanders
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Best Response
Sep 22, 2017 - 10:50am

Why are you worried about the firm choosing between firing you or the D? That seems like nonsense to me.

You need to remember that your job is to make the next guy up look better to his superior. This is your only purpose in the firm. It seems to me like the D knows how to play the office politics game very well, and so when it comes down to it, if it looks like the guy that makes him look good (you) is threatened, he will stick his neck out to help you. You need to keep doing what you're doing and recognize that it doesn't matter how you look to the MD on a day to day basis, because at the end of every review cycle, the D is going to sit in that room and tell him how great you are.

Your concerns seem to revolve around job security and wondering how the D can respect himself for his work. Don't worry about that; your number one focus should be on your role within the firm as if you existed in a vacuum. If you want out, then leave, but don't assume that the political game will be any different anywhere else.

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Sep 23, 2017 - 9:30am

Dude I know the feeling, at my old fund, the country manager was a total buffoon, no finance experience, kept referring to book value as the purchase price.

Anyways I was a fresh grad at the time working in PE, so my perspective may not necessarily be the best solution, but just ride it out.

Sep 23, 2017 - 9:38am

It isn't uncommon for junior analysts to bitch about lack of technical skills of people above them. People seriously need to recognize that as you climb up the ladder your technicals just don't matter much anymore. This holds true even for many engineering firms where you think technicals probably matter the most. Obviously the example you are describing is rather an outlier and makes you really wonder about how he even got there in the first place, but you'd be surprised how often this happens. You may never know why he got there. The sooner you accept the reality that promotion is rarely based on meritocracy the less bitter and miserable you will be. You need to earn favor from both D and MD. Don't even try something that might embarrass D because you'll have a shitstorm larger than Irma cast upon you.

Sep 23, 2017 - 11:16am

Sorry keep adding random comments. Is he good with clients? Management? That would be a big indicator, I'm certain your MD realizes your D has cancer in the brain, but at least he keeps clients and management happy and enthusiastic. get what I mean?

Sep 28, 2017 - 10:30am


I am having issues with the D


"Son, life is hard. But it's harder if you're stupid." - my dad
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Sep 28, 2017 - 9:06pm


I am having issues with the D

(D was slow in progressing up the ladder)

D probably adds 5% value

if my MD had to pick one of us to let go between myself and my D, he would still keep the D

  • Am I being too obnoxious thinking so little of my D?

    I am still 'junior' to the D and I should show respect.

Gotta respect the D. Also, I wouldn't say you're thinking about the D a little, it sounds more like an obsession.
Sep 29, 2017 - 4:20pm

Adding a few comments here, I am not worried about the firm choosing between firing me or the D but it was a hypothetical situation whereby I would still be the one gone if my boss had a pick even though my D is completely incompetent.

It's just having to work alongside with a guy who you know does not have a clue what he is doing on the job and he's hiding behind his boss, at the same time busy shining off shoes and saying sweet nothings to everyone else to please them.

The way he tries to keep himself relevant is trying to undermine me the best he can. i.e. we'd be on the same deal time and he would intentionally send some emails behind my back without copying me (or having one-off calls directly without including me), and I'd confront him about it, and he would say he forgot.

Or getting information and not passing it along and keeping it to himself.

It's a very childish and immature way of playing the game, not to mention the questions he asked the other party were all solid questions I proposed initially, but yet he would try to take credit whenever he can. This is not the only instance but occurs more than you think, so it's hard to continue to suck up and pretend nothing happens. I'm not sure if you guys have ever encountered people like this but you just want to smack them around, but you can't.

Technical skills are an entirely different matter and I wouldn't even get into the specifics. There's much more than technical skills like the example I gave above, like trying to make me do some stupid work just so he totally understands the full picture yet it is abundantly clear that work does not need to be done.

I am just bewildered and struggle to see that I would meet such an incompetent person in high finance, expected nothing but aggressive or calm and astute personalities, ceases to amaze me.

Maybe the positive lesson here is I'm shit at playing politics in the office and I should start learning rather than being efficient and getting actual shit done accurately and quickly. And maybe the fact that when I'm ever MD / Head of the Group, that i would become demented and like an incompetent sidekick who can be my dog all day rather than a competent individual who i would likely feel threatened by his behavior/performance.

Sep 29, 2017 - 4:14pm

My man--everyone wants a buddy in the office. If your MD is a superhero, he gets a sidekick. That's how comic books work. And if you don't think your existence is comical, you need to check yourself.

You sound like a whiner. The D seems to like you. You seem to dislike the D because he lacks competence (according to you). But he's a D. He has made it. Maybe he's not as senior as you think someone ought to be at his age. Maybe he's a moron in ways you perceive to be important. But he survived. He's still there. He must be doing something right. Even if it's ass-kissing.

You seem to disdain office politics. I assure you, they exist everywhere, and they're AT LEAST as important as competence. A lot of juniors mistake technical know-how for value, but how many MDs at Blackstone do you think know how to use Excel? I assure you the number is closer to 0% than 100%. That's not their job. Has it occurred to you that the D's likability translates to an ability to originate deals or cultivate relationships with potential acquisitions? Or maybe he's just well-liked around the office, and that's sufficient to keep him there.

While finance might be ruthless at times, you need friends in the business and within your firm. Maybe it's in your MD's interest to keep your D around because he doesn't require a 'killer' in that position, he doesn't want someone chasing after his job, and he likes the guy who's there?

When people say they're bad at office politics, I often think they're just morons. You mean to say you can't figure out how things work around here? Why would that be a boon to you? That's a disability, and certainly one not worth whingeing about on a finance forum.

Oct 5, 2017 - 4:24pm


Maybe the positive lesson here is I'm shit at playing politics in the office and I should start learning rather than being efficient and getting actual shit done accurately and quickly.

You have to do both. As you move up, politics becomes a bigger portion of the game. Smart technical people get pigeonholed into technical roles - in high finance it's all about getting the technicals right while playing the game in front of you until you are senior enough to say "fuck it" and carve your own path. Until then, you're stuck with incompetent assholes who are really good at fundraising, or have dirt on the MD, or have really important relationships elsewhere, etc. This happens literally everywhere, and the tactics he is using are standard playbook.

Learn to play his game. Go out of your way to better your relationship with him, and keep making him look good. What you describe as "undermining" (not cc'ing you on emails to the MD) is what I call "Monday through motherfucking Sunday" at any shop I have ever heard of. It's just what happens to junior people in our business. If you are good at your job and play the game long enough (don't piss anyone off, stick your chin out when it's time to get punched, if you're going to do something ballsy it better be a calculated risk, etc), then your career will naturally evolve.

In this situation you gotta keep your friend close, but your enemy closer. The real question is, how much are you making (current + future potential) and is that enough to compensate for the all the bullshit?

Oct 4, 2017 - 1:07pm

If it's as toxic a situation for you personally as the way you've described it- look elsewhere. Life's too short to work for idiots. That said, as many posters have commented, office politics is everywhere and you just gotta deal with it. I think in your case the reason you're having such a hard time dealing with it is there's literally no one to whine too. The MD runs the show and his direct report is the one you have a problem with. At every place you go, there'll be a combination of dumb asses and people who're genuinely bright. In your case, you don't have the ability to talk this out with the latter type.

I don't agree with many of the comments above including sucking it up and making your higher up look good. Based on what you've described, he appears to be genuinely incompetent and if he's willing to throw you under the bus for it, it's time to bounce. I'm taking you at face value here as it doesn't seem like your traditional rant from yet another junior guy - the problem appears deeper than that.

If you're willing to show some cogones, go out, recruit and lock something down. Then break it to him or give him the inkling you may be thinking about leaving because you're "not that happy here". He's going to freak out internally and even if he does a good job of faking it, watch his attitude towards you change overnight. People like these don't last long without strong subordinates.

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