Best-Known Bankers in Town: Hassan Salem

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The following is one of six profiles on bankers who've raised the act of community engagement to an art form. To see the others, click here.

HASSAN SALEM
U.S. Bancorp

President, Colorado Market
AGE: 44
YEARS IN ROLE: 6
FROM: Dubai
EDUCATION: University of Arizona, business degree
FIRST BANKING JOB: Teller
FIRST U.S. VOLUNTEER ROLE: Boys & Girls Club soccer coach
TIP: "You can say no when you can't serve and can't do justice to the cause."

Ask three Denver locals to name the best-known banker in town, and chances are you'll get at least three different answers. That's how active a bunch the bankers here are.

But even bankers in the Mile High City say they are awed by the sheer ubiquitousness of Hassan Salem, president of the Colorado market for the $353 billion-asset U.S. Bancorp.

"Either the guy is really active or there are actually three Hassan Salems running around town," says John Ikard, president and CEO of FirstBank, which is based a few miles outside Denver in Lakewood, Colo.

Salem spent the past year chairing the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. He also serves on the leadership council of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver and on the board of National Jewish Health. When he and his wife, Sheila, co-chaired the Colorado Symphony Ball a few years ago, the local press credited them with helping to rejuvenate what had been a flagging annual fundraiser.

Salem's devotion to volunteering started 8,000 miles away in his hometown of Dubai, where his father ingrained in him and his four siblings the importance of helping others. Stateside, Salem's first volunteer role was with a Boys & Girls Club coaching soccer while he was earning his business degree at the University of Arizona.

He moved to Denver in the early 1990s, because his wife got a job there. Salem wound up getting hired as a teller at Colorado National Bank, a predecessor of U.S. Bancorp, and over the next two decades he moved up the ranks, ascending to the bank's top position in the state in 2007.

U.S. Bancorp is the third-largest deposit holder in Colorado, just barely edged out of second place by FirstBank. (Wells Fargo is No. 1 by market share.)

Ikard says that despite their rivalry, Denver's banking leaders—a group that also includes Bruce Alexander, president and CEO of Vectra Bank, and Bob Malone, the chairman and CEO of Steele Street Bank & Trust—rely on each other to buy tables for black-tie events, to avoid having to hit up customers. "Hassan is one of my go-to guys," Ikard says. "He's exceptionally generous with his time ... and he's a natural leader."

Salem, whose local community involvement started with Rotary Club meetings not long after he arrived in town, cautions young bankers not to focus too much on networking when they join an organization. Instead he advises that they choose causes they genuinely care about. "Then it tends to be more fulfilling and something that you will excel in," he says.

Salem says one of his recent successes was helping National Jewish, a respiratory hospital, raise $2 million last year as a grand marshal at its annual gala.

Based on his list of volunteer activities, it's hard to believe that Salem, a father of two, ever says "no" to an organization. But he does.

"You say no when you know you can't serve and can't do justice to the cause," says Salem. Though in those cases, he looks for someone at his company who might be able to help where he can't.

As Salem pondered taking the role of chairman at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce—a one-year stint that concluded this past September—his careful consideration of whether he could make the time commitment is something CEO Kelly Brough found striking.

"When he said 'yes,'" Brough recalls, "he was all in."

—Robert Barba

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How the Best-Known Bankers in Town Stay Connected

Which bankers are boldface names in your city? You know the type: chairs the local Chamber of Commerce, raises big money for cultural institutions, knows everyone down at the country club and can greet a room full of customers by name. Of course having a sizeable donations budget can help buy connections, but maintaining a high level of community engagement and balancing it all with a day job at a bank comes down to skill.

We've profiled six bankers who raise this aspect of their work to an art form. They are from different institutions in different parts of the country, and each has a different story. One is a third-generation banker who has known many of her community's leaders since childhood. Another is an immigrant who began in banking as a teller, and whose commitment to volunteerism flourished along with his career. Some balance their activities with quiet alone time; others are social butterflies to the core. They are business leaders, civic boosters and ambassadors for their institutions. Here are the stories of how they became the best-known bankers in town.

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