While growing up in Lewiston, Maine, in the 1960s and 70s, David Roux was aware of The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor but had no inkling he would ever be involved with it. He was planning a career in business, not science.
But a half century later, Roux is not only a trustee of the Laboratory but also its top benefactor and a valued visionary who is helping shape its future in genomic medicine.
Roux and his wife, Barbara, recently gave $5 million to the Laboratory, triggering a $5 million match in their honor by JAX. Theirs is the largest philanthropic gift in the Laboratory’s history.
So just who is David Roux?
He is a successful technology investor whose 30-year career as an entrepreneur, corporate executive and financier helped usher in the digital age. And he is an active philanthropist whose experience, wisdom and critical thinking are as valued as his financial gifts by the nonprofit organizations he supports.
“I don’t know anyone else like him,” says David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, one of Roux’s philanthropic causes. “He’s thoughtful and analytical, and all of his life experience has gone through some kind of special ‘Dave blender’ that results in enormous wisdom about life and organizational excellence, about management, about communication. He has this real gravitas.”
Roux made his mark early, only a year out of Harvard Business School, when he co-founded and was CEO of the first commercial CD-ROM publishing company, Datext, later sold to Lotus. That initial success led him to increasingly senior executive positions in the technology industry, first at Lotus, and later at software giant Oracle, where he was one of Chairman Larry Ellison’s top lieutenants as head of corporate development and then as chairman and CEO of Liberate Technologies, an Oracle subsidiary.
But it was a highly calculated gamble in his early 40s that paid the greatest career dividends for Roux, not only boosting his family’s wealth but scaling up his impact on the global technology industry. He and three trusted associates believed the general market had under-estimated the scope, impact and durability of the Internet and related new technologies, so they left their corporate jobs in 1999 and co-founded a firm called Silver Lake to invest in private technology companies.
Today, Silver Lake is the world’s largest technology private equity firm with $23 billion in assets under management. It has invested in, bought, shaped and sold some of the most recognized technology brands including Skype, Dell, Alibaba, Ameritrade, Go Daddy, Groupon and Avaya. The companies in its investment portfolio generate more than $80 billion of revenue annually and employ more than 160,000 people internationally.
Asked in an interview what gave him the Midas touch at Silver Lake, Roux pauses and speaks deliberately, true to his self-described plodding, methodical nature.
“I have really only three skills,” he says. “I’m very comfortable forming an opinion about how complex technologies and markets will evolve.
“The second thing is I have an ability to pick out from complexity and chaos a few things that are important . . . and to concentrate on those.
“The third thing – and it may be the most important – is that I have a good eye for talent, and I enjoy working with developing, motivating, incenting young talent. I like the mentoring relationship. I’ve always liked building teams. I’m very proud of the fact that dozens of people who have worked for me have gone on to be CEOs and lead their own companies. I get a big kick out of their success.”
Friends and associates of Roux agree with his self-assessment but add other distinguishing traits including insatiable curiosity and extraordinary drive.
“He’s obsessive about everything,” says Yarnold. “He decided to become a golfer, and before you knew it he was a single handicapper.”
Jim Davidson, a co-founder of Silver Lake who has known Roux for two decades, says his business partner is “intellectually curious at a level that’s just not commonly encountered in the world. He’s constantly challenging himself, learning more, going deeper. And I think that intellectual curiosity is just part of him and his DNA, and drives him a lot.”
Roux is “a very impressive guy, and I’m not easily impressed,” says Richard Morrissey, an attorney who leads the London office of the New York law firm
Sullivan and Cromwell, which has represented Silver Lake on certain deals. Morrissey has known Roux since their freshman year at Harvard, where they served on the humor magazine The Harvard Lampoon together.
“Dave’s a deeply amusing and quick-witted character,” he says. “The quirkiness and humor of the Lampoon, he still carries with him and uses to great effect in his daily personal and business life . . . which is important because it masks a ferocious intensity that he has brought to really every stage of his life. And that intensity has allowed him to be extremely successful.
“If you had that intensity without it being covered by the humor and deep human compassion he has, it would be very scary,” Morrissey says with a laugh.
In recent years, Roux has reduced his day-to-day involvement in Silver Lake, stepping down as co-CEO but remaining a senior director at the firm. He and his wife returned East from the San Francisco Bay Area to be closer to family, including their three adult children, Jocelyn, Alex and Margot. They have a summer home in Harpswell, Maine, but live primarily on St. Bride’s Farm, a 350-acre horse farm in northern Virginia, where Barbara is an accomplished equestrian who breeds, trains and shows world-class show jumpers.
Roux enjoys having more time for his many recreational passions – golf, fly fishing, sailing, mountain biking, watching sports and playing the banjo.
“Want me to play a song?” Roux asks an interviewer on the phone. “I just happen to have my banjo right here.”
He launches into a medley of classic bluegrass tunes – Banjo in the Hollow, Cumberland Gap, Cripple Creek and Foggy Mountain Breakdown – and continues to strum the instrument playfully throughout the rest of the call.
Today, most of Roux’s business hours are devoted not to earning money but to helping various nonprofit causes, “and Barbara is very much my partner in all of this,” he says.
“Dave has chosen to step back and leave a lot of money on the table, arguably, in order to devote his substantial resources, intellect and very valuable time to a variety of charities, including Jackson,” says Morrissey. “And what’s most valuable about Dave is not his financial resources but his time and judgment. To have someone who has taken the kind of significant resources he has and devote them – both the money and the intellect – to a cause like Jackson is quite remarkable.
“Most guys like him just work forever to make more and more money, but the basic humanity in him has forced that intensity away from a business track onto a track that is much more productive for society.”
Roux’s philanthropic ambition is rooted in his upbringing in southern Maine.
His mother, Connie Longley Roux, was a computer programmer with New England Telephone who helped maintain the company’s first generation of digital switches. After raising six children, she went back to college to earn her degree, all while volunteering for various church and civic activities “and generally spending lots of time helping other people live more complete lives,” Roux says. Her brother was James Longley, Maine’s 69th governor in the late 1970s, and she ran for the state Senate, losing by only 146 votes to Olympia Snowe, the eventual U.S. senator.
Roux’s father, Donald, was a banker who coached high school sports and was chairman of the Lewiston school board, a member of the local Rotary Club and head of the region’s United Way for many years.
The Rouxs instilled in their children “relentlessly positive attitudes” and “worked to make the communities where they lived better places,” Roux says.
“I think that Dave was profoundly influenced by his parents, both of whom were extraordinary people,” says Morrissey. “Each had great dignity and the thought that you had an obligation to give something back to the society that you operated in. I think they transferred that sense of obligation, rather than a sense of entitlement, to Dave.”
Echoes Jim Davidson, Roux’s Silver Lake partner: “He was raised well by his family in Maine. He understands how fortunate he has been, so I think giving back is important (to him).”
The Rouxs practice their philanthropy in three realms – education, environmental conservation and global health – and are strategic in their commitments.
“There’s no shortage of worthy causes in the world,” Roux says. “What it comes down to is we pick the ones that matter most. For me, it needs to be meaningful, it needs to be fundamental, and it needs to be something that I can do something about. I like for there to be a serious victory attached to the effort. How is it exactly that we can make the world a better place as opposed to whining and winching about it?”
Roux’s many commitments over the years have included Audubon, the Environmental Defense Fund, Bowdoin College, Harvard, the Positive Coaching
Alliance, which promotes character-building through youth sports, and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which tracks global health trends, at the University of Washington.
Today, “JAX is at the top of my list,” Roux says. “I think it’s just brimming over with potential, and I can play a small part in helping to realize it. What’s exciting to me and to Barbara about JAX is this organization has both the willingness to tackle big problems and the talent and associated execution skills to have a meaningful chance of actually solving them.”
The Rouxs’ recent major gift to the Laboratory will be used to create the Roux Family Center for Genomics and Computational Biology, with three new endowed faculty chair positions and a permanent fund for recruiting expert staff and driving research and discovery at JAX’s research campuses in Bar Harbor and Farmington, Conn.
“We think about this as philanthropic risk capital,” Roux says. “Not everything we try will work. Not every research path will pan out. But enough of them will. And each time something doesn’t work, we learn something and it contributes to the tree of knowledge. We get better and better and better – the processes, the people and hopefully the collaborations with people around world who are doing the same thing – and together we can solve some serious problems. We can cure some diseases, we can find new treatments, we can invent new therapies, we can do better diagnostics. There is lots of exciting stuff to come.
“It is absolutely clear to me that the technology around genomic medicine and computational biology is going to have a bigger and more profound impact than people realize,” Roux says. “It’s going to roll in like waves on a beach. It’s just going to keep breaking. That’s what I find interesting, exciting, provocative and so promising.
“I think about it as being an extraordinarily good investment – like investing in semiconductors in 1960 or personal computers in 1970 or software in 1980 or the Internet in 1990 or social networking in 2000. We both think that this suite of related (genomic) technologies has the potential to transform medicine and human health, and you don’t often get the chance to make investments like that.”