Managing Partner | Bain Capital Ventures
He’s led a multibillion-dollar Fortune 500 technology company, he advises President Barack Obama on cyber crime, and he hunts for early-stage tech investments at Bain Capital Ventures—but Enrique Salem didn’t set out to become a thought leader.
The Colombia native and high school valedictorian grew up in Los Angeles and was recruited to play football at Dartmouth College. He intended to study law, but once in Hanover, New Hampshire, he discovered computers and found his true calling.
Though Dartmouth is 3,000 miles from Salem’s Los Angeles neighborhood, he says the campus and surrounding community became a second home. “It’s a tight-knit group and a special place,” he says. “I started seeing all the possibilities of who and what I could become.”
Salem grew up speaking Spanish at home, so his English skills lagged behind. He excelled at math and science and loved to read, but he needed to improve his written expression.
One class—a freshman computer course—seemed like second nature to him. “I’d get an assignment, go to the lab, and be left alone to sit and write programs. It either worked or it didn’t, and I knew right away,” he recalls. Salem wrote simple programs to solve math problems and quickly realized how influential computers would soon become.
Meanwhile, Dartmouth’s liberal arts campus helped unlock Salem’s mind. “A liberal arts education is excellent, because you get exposure to so many thoughts, opinions, and topics,” he says. Salem studied computer science, but he took courses like philosophy, religion, and art history. A suite-mate studying Chinese often discussed international affairs and global economies with Salem.
After graduation, Salem worked for Bank of America, where he wrote trading systems and applied technology to solve financial problems. His time there reinforced three things taught to him by his father, an airplane mechanic at Los Angeles International: treat others with respect, work hard, and keep a positive attitude.
Salem wasn’t a trader, but he still arrived to work at about 5 a.m. so he could be there when the markets opened. He stayed late and got to know his superiors. “My work ethic made a difference, and I was promoted rapidly in the early part of my career,” he explains. “I combined commitment and hard work. Executives will take that anywhere.”
Salem received his first managerial role at just 23 years old. He was leading software development teams when he found himself working on Norton Desktop for Windows at a business unit of Symantec. Gordon Eubanks, the company’s CEO, used the product and sent his questions directly to Salem. The two developed a relationship, and in 1996, the CEO took a risk on Salem: he gave him the chance to run a business. “The biggest break of my career was landing the chance to go from being a tech person to running a business unit,” Salem says. By 2002, Salem was CEO of Brightmail, an anti-spam company.
An interaction at his daughter’s school changed the way Salem leads his teams. Another parent asked Salem about his work and was relieved to know he was trying to eliminate spam.
“I went back to work and held an all-hands meeting where I told them the story, and we realized we were doing work that mattered,” he recalls. “The power of having purpose became something we could really rally around, and the whole company got excited.” Salem encouraged his teams to share more stories, and a year later, they sold to Symantec for $370 million.
Today, Salem is at Bain Capital Ventures, where he looks for early-stage infrastructure ideas. Salem’s firm, the venture arm of Bain, invests in enterprises that operate with the same aggressive pursuit of opportunity that has powered Salem’s career in the fast-paced technology sector.
“I want to find new ideas where we can get involved from the start, and I am excited about new approaches to security that will keep us one step ahead of next-generation threats,” he says.
Additionally, he is one of 10 leaders on President Obama’s Management Advisory Board and sits on the boards of FireEye, Atlassian, and DocuSign.
Even this deep into his career, Salem says his days at Dartmouth remain influential—Michael Krupka, a fellow managing director at Bain Capital Ventures, was a former classmate.
To up-and-coming Latinos, Salem says the key is to stand out from the crowd through expertise, relationships, and a relentless desire for success. “You have to want it more than other people.”
Words by Zach Baliva // Photography by RC Rivera