As a college student at Syracuse University, Michael Petrie faced a dilemma that many young people come up against: he didn’t know which career path to take.
“It was my first attempt at higher education, and I was a wide-eyed eighteen-year-old who had this idea of, ‘You go to college to go to business school and then, you pursue business—whatever that is,’” he says. “I didn’t have much success. I probably didn’t know enough about what I wanted in life and how to make the most of college. That combined with other life events had me exiting after two years.”
He ended up taking a semester off to regroup and then enrolled at the University of Connecticut as a psychology major. When he graduated, he considered a career in psychology and social work, even going as far as applying to a master’s program at Boston College and getting accepted.
But he just wasn’t convinced he had found his calling.
“During that time, I had worked a job at a social work facility in Boston, which was a residential treatment facility for teens. It was eye-opening, rewarding, and sobering at times,” he says, “but I was also starting to think about other paths that would be more self-sustaining, because I was making so little money that I had to take on multiple jobs bartending and working at restaurants.”
As he deliberated his future and kept his options open, Petrie decided to pursue law school, believing that path might provide not only the money he needed to survive but also a variety of skills that could be applied to various industries and positions.
It took time, but he realized it was his true calling. He went on to spend the first six years of his law career as an associate at Jackson Lewis LLP, Robinson & Cole LLP, and Halloran & Sage LLP. He continued to hone his legal expertise at Jorden Burt LLP before moving in-house at Clarks as an associate general counsel and director of legal affairs.
Today, Petrie serves as deputy chief counsel of labor and employment, litigation, and real estate at BAE Systems Inc. As he reflects on his journey to the role, he says one of the major lessons he had to learn was “how to be patient with career.”
“You have to be motivated to figure things out, but also give yourself time to experience and learn what you like,” he explains. “It’s not true for everyone, but when I was early in my journey, I felt a degree of impatience like I should’ve already arrived at my dream job. You need to make sure you don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect on day one.”
Since he’s been at BAE Systems, there’s been no shortage of initiatives that he’s been proud to be a part of, but some of the most inspiring work happened during the pandemic. He and his colleagues worked to make decisions surrounding COVID-19 protocols and navigating how employees reacted to those things.
“Inevitably some felt we did too much, imposing on their First Amendment rights, and others felt we weren’t doing enough. The hardest part about it was you had to make sure you provided consideration to everyone’s story in ways that were respectful,” Petrie says. “We go through it by having a sensitivity to those stories and by making sure we were doing the right thing for the company and for employees.”
Leaders looking to balance those priorities in their organizations need to be willing to set aside their personal opinions for the greater good.
“Be willing to look at things from a different lens,” he advises. “It’s not our place to judge the rightness or wrongness of everyone’s lives, experience, or what they believe. We relied on humanistic principles of making sure we didn’t elevate any one person’s story over the other.”
Why did Michael Petrie Move In-House?
“In a law firm, I got a sense that at a certain point I wasn’t happy. I didn’t know why until I moved in-house. I realized I enjoyed the kind of problem-solving, partnership, and collaboration that comes in-house. So as much as I advise people to be patient in their careers, I also say if you know you’re not in the right place, make sure you put yourself where you’re happy.”