Hassan Salem is a mile-high banker who loves the great outdoors, enjoys golf, is an accomplished skier (not to mention one of the top bankers in the skiing industry), and an avid football fan who never misses a Broncos game if he can help it. He’s also engaged in the theater, predominantly behind the stage, where he is intent on keeping the arts alive and healthy – even in the middle of a global pandemic.
In his spare time, Salem is also the new national head of Commercial Banking for U.S. Bank where he directs teams located in 36 markets nationwide providing a range of products and services to middle market companies – those with annual sales between $10 million and $500 million.
Salem sees great opportunity within the middle market business segment, despite the current global health crisis, because he believes that mid-size companies are essential to America’s economic success. He notes that these companies account for trillions of dollars annually in terms of U.S. private sector gross receipts as well as millions of jobs. And he believes, as the crisis improves, that these companies will be essential to rebuilding the U.S. economy.
Prior to his promotion to head of Commercial Banking in June 2020, Salem was Colorado market president and regional head of Commercial Banking in Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Wisconsin, Michigan and Chicago.
His career spans 28 years, but his banking responsibilities were not always this extensive. As an international student from the Middle East, he aspired initially to earn a degree in aerospace mechanical engineering. A few business courses at the University of Arizona changed his mind, and he soon switched his degree to economics.
Salem was immediately drawn to banking and, upon graduation, he was experienced enough to start his career in a management program. But the U.S. entered a recession in the early 1990s and management training programs were scarce.
“Timing was not on my side,” he said. “I took the one opportunity I could find to get started in banking and that was working as a teller with Colorado National Bank, a predecessor of U.S. Bank.”
Salem is a proud, career-long veteran of U.S. Bank.
“I’ve enjoyed every job I’ve ever had within the bank,” he said. “But I have to say a high point for me in my career was transitioning from credit analyst to a relationship manager. I enjoy engaging with people. That includes helping other bankers create value for their clients and supporting clients of all kinds as they work to grow their businesses successfully.”
Always curious and focused on successful outcomes for customers, his professional journey has been both ladder- and lattice-like. He advanced quickly within the bank, earning many promotions. Along the way, he paused, at various times, to explore subjects that interested him deeply.
“When I moved into the job of credit analyst, I had the chance to cover many new industries, such as skiing,” he said. “Living in Colorado, I started skiing on my own. I put these two interests together and, over the course of about four or five years, I built expertise in lending to ski companies.
“I’ve been growing the bank’s ski business ever since – helping clients in different ways as the industry has changed over the years.”
Today, Salem is well-known and respected as one of the ski industry’s leading lenders.
“There has been a lot of consolidation in this space over the years,” he said. “Our work in this industry has tended to focus on larger, well-diversified operators, which is important because this is such a weather-dependent business. From a capital perspective, supporting bigger operators makes sense, because they’re able to handle down weather years with more resiliency than smaller companies.”
Back at base camp, Salem and his wife, Sheila, are deeply engaged in the Denver community. He serves on several local boards and is currently a Trustee, Development Committee Co-Chair and Chair of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ capital campaign, an assignment that will help the theater establish a state-of-the-art facility with modernized resources for stage productions.
The DCPA Capital Campaign has a goal of $36 million. COVID-19 interrupted fundraising temporarily at the $31 million mark. However, despite the pandemic, the campaign continues with Salem leading the way. He is working hard to help DCPA reach its goal. To accomplish this, and to help local theaters succeed throughout the market, he regularly meets with members of the community to talk about why support for the arts is essential.
In addition, Salem is a board member for the National Jewish Health Council of National Trustees – one of the nation’s leading respiratory hospitals, Delta Dental of Colorado and Colorado Concern.
He is also a member of the executive committee of Colorado Succeeds, which focuses on workforce readiness through education, and he is a board trustee for the Denver Area Council of Boy Scouts of America.
At work or in the community, Salem often reflects on growing up with an important guiding principle – a north star, he says, for being authentic to who you really are. This has led to not only advocating for what he cares about, but also doing the hard work of getting involved and making a difference.
“My father taught me this,” he said. “Be passionate, work hard and do everything well, or it’s not worth doing at all.”