Javier Saade, partner at Impact Master Holdings, describes his career path as a “squiggly line,” and his journey truly has been anything but traditional. He grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and came to the mainland US to attend Purdue University for his bachelor’s, followed by an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Since then, he’s started and invested in businesses; served on private company, corporate, and nonprofit boards; held leadership roles at top firms; and even served in presidential administrations. Over the years, Saade’s Latino heritage, global perspective, and broad experience have put him in a position to govern and steward business organizations.
Although his career has been filled with many forks in the road, Saade says dedicated parents put him on the path that’s made it all possible. “My parents really cared about me receiving the best possible education, and they taught me to persevere no matter what,” he explains. He was one of the few Latinos both in his undergraduate classes and at Harvard.
He encountered similar dynamics as he started his career in operating and management consulting roles at Abbott Laboratories, Booz Allen Hamilton, and McKinsey & Company. Still, Saade remained unfazed: his parents’ encouragement and strong values had laid the foundation for him to be a confident, committed, and hard-working student and professional.
In 2002, Saade started laying the groundwork to create a media network. He envisioned a left-of-center answer to Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. The company he cofounded became Air America Media, which launched in the spring of 2004 and featured hosts like Al Franken, Rachel Maddow, Jerry Springer, Chuck D, Janeane Garofalo, Cenk Uygar, Marc Maron, and Ron Reagan.
Unfortunately, economic realities, media landscape changes, and public controversy plagued the endeavor and Air America ultimately filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Saade had exited his operational role in 2004, and while Air America was not the success he had envisioned, he gained valuable operating experience and learned a lot. “It was like a second, more expensive MBA,” he jokes.
After Air America, Saade joined Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund with $160 billion in assets, as an institutional advisor, later becoming managing director at GEM Group, an emerging markets alternative investment firm.
Then he got “a call” from the White House. It was 2013, and Barack Obama was in his second term as president. He appointed Saade to serve as associate administrator of the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) and as the agency’s chief of investment and innovation. Saade was one of the highest-ranking Latinos in the executive branch, responsible for managing tens of billions of dollars earmarked for investment in high-growth companies and early-stage technologies.
While leading the $30 billion Small Business Investment Company program, Saade oversaw one of the largest capital pools in the world focused on funding small US companies. Since its inception, the fund has capitalized over 173,000 companies, including Amgen, Costco, Apple, Intel, FedEx, and Tesla back when they were start-ups.
He also led the Small Business Innovation Research & Small Business Tech Transfer programs, which invest $4 billion per year in early-stage players in biotech, AI, clean energy, edtech, robotics, and cybersecurity, among other areas. He concurrently served on the US Securities & Exchange Commission’s Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies.
The Latino from Puerto Rico is proud and humbled to have held such impactful roles and hopes his career has helped pave the way for others. “I like to think that career advancement and appointments like this happen because we are skilled people who work hard, and not because we check some box,” he says. “It takes diligence, long hours, and calculated risk-taking to get yourself prepared and to seize opportunities.”
By the time Saade exited the Obama administration, he was looking to take the next step in his career and prepare himself for corporate board service. He did that by serving on private company and nonprofit boards, including two of the largest: Pan American Development Foundation and the Nature Conservancy.
Today, Saade is managing partner at Impact Master Holdings, a company that works with companies in financial services, technology, software, sustainable innovation, media, consumer goods and services, and other sectors. He is also partner at Fenway Summer, a venture capital firm that has invested in sixty-plus companies, including several “unicorns” worth billions of dollars.
As Saade stepped into these roles, he felt he was ready to serve on public company boards. “When you’ve seen the private and public sector from so many different vantage points, you can use many arrows in your quiver to make decisions about strategy, people, capital allocation, digital transformation, and everything else you experience in leadership,” he explains.
Until recently, Saade was lead independent director of the board of directors of Porch Group, a Nasdaq traded company. Currently, he is audit committee chair of the board of directors of another public company, Softbank Vision Fund Investment Corp., and is chairman of the board of GP Funding Inc., a private equity-owned company. Recently, he also became a member of the New York Stock Exchange’s Board Advisory Council Diversity Initiative.
Although it never fails to surprise Saade if he is the only Latino involved in any venture, he says the outlook for minorities in the boardroom is improving. He’s not just a board member; he holds leadership roles on the boards he serves on. “More people that look like me are reaching positions of power,” he says. “This matters because we have to reflect the makeup of the nation’s talent—not because is a nice thing to do but because diversity of thought leads to the best possible outcomes for shareholders and for society.”
Saade is keenly aware of his responsibility to use his influence for the benefit of others, including other members of the Hispanic community. At this stage in his career, other leaders are coming to him seeking advice about open board positions and capital allocation. “Guess who I recommend?” he asks with a grin.
Looking back on his career, Saade doesn’t think anything guaranteed his success. “It is baffling to look back at the combination of serendipity, energy, and work that has led me down these paths,” he reflects. “It’s weird to be ‘one of the only Latino anything’ because demographics and math lead you to conclude otherwise. If a kid from San Juan can do it, anybody can.”