Robert F. Smith (investor)
Robert Frederick Smith
December 1, 1962
|Education||Cornell University (BS)|
Columbia University (MBA)
|Net worth||US $7.05 billion (March 2021) |
(m. 1988; div. 2014)
Robert Frederick Smith (born December 1, 1962) is an American businessman, philanthropist, chemical engineer, and investor. He is the founder, chairman, and CEO of private equity firm Vista Equity Partners.
Smith was born to Dr. William Robert Smith and Dr. Sylvia Myrna Smith, who were both school teachers. He grew up in a predominantly African American, middle-class neighborhood in Denver, Colorado. When he was an infant, his mother carried him at the March on Washington, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. He attended Carson Elementary School and East High School in Denver.
In high school, he applied for an internship at Bell Labs but was told the program was intended for college students. Smith persisted, calling each Monday for five months. When a student from M.I.T. did not show up, he got the position, and that summer he developed a reliability test for semiconductors. Smith earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University in 1985. At Cornell, he became a brother of Alpha Phi Alpha. In 1994, he received his Master of Business Administration from Columbia University with concentrations in finance and marketing.
Smith worked at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Air Products & Chemicals and later at Kraft General Foods as a chemical engineer, where he registered two United States and two European patents. From 1994 to 2000, he worked for Goldman Sachs in technology investment banking, first in New York City and then in Silicon Valley. He advised on mergers and acquisition activity with companies such as Apple and Microsoft. In 2018, Smith was included in Vanity Fair’s New Establishment List, which is an annual ranking of individuals who have made impactful business innovations.
Vista Equity Partners
In 2000, Smith founded Vista Equity Partners, a private equity and venture capital firm of which he is the principal founder, chairman and chief executive. According to Black Enterprise magazine, Smith is credited with consistently generating a 30 percent rate of return for his investors from the company's inception to 2020. As of 2019, Vista Equity Partners was the fourth largest enterprise software company after Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP, including all their holdings. Vista has invested in companies such as STATS, Ping Identity, and Jio. As of 2019, Vista Equity Partners had closed more than $46 billion of funding.
In 2016, Smith was named as Private Equity International's Game Changer of the Year for his work with Vista.
The 2019 PitchBook Private Equity Awards named Vista Equity Partners 'Dealmaker of the Year'.
In 2014, Smith became the founding director and president of the Fund II Foundation, which has invested in organizations such as Cornell, the National Park Foundation, and Susan G. Komen. Also in 2014, Smith received an honorary doctorate from Huston-Tillotson University.
The Fund II Foundation has also supported education organizations including NAF and UNCF. Fund II's support of the National Park Foundation allowed the organization to buy Martin Luther King Jr.'s home for preservation in 2019.
Smith has also served as the chairman of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, on the board of overseers of Columbia Business School, as a member of the Cornell Engineering College Council, on the Cornell University Tech Board, and as a Trustee of the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco. He has donated to The Sphinx Organization, which supports diversity in the arts.
Also that year, Cornell University named the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering after him, following a donation. He was later recognized as a distinguished alumnus by the college.
Smith was named in The Chronicle of Philanthropy's "Philanthropy 50" in 2017. In May 2017, The Giving Pledge announced that Smith had joined as its first African-American signatory. That year, Smith was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Denver.
In 2018, Fund II Foundation gave a $2.7 million grant to the Louis Armstrong House Museum, and Smith has served as a board member since. This grant helped digitize Armstrong's collection to make it available to the public.
In 2018, Smith was the largest individual donor at the City of Hope Gala, which funds prostate cancer treatment and breast cancer research for black men and women. That same year, Smith donated $2.5 million to the Prostate Cancer Foundation to advance prostate cancer research among African-American men. Also in 2018, Smith donated $1 million to the Cultural Performance Center at the Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park in Harlem, which was later renamed the Robert Frederick Smith Center for Performing Arts.
Smith has received the Candle in Business and Philanthropy Award from Morehouse College, the International Medical Corps Humanitarian of the Year Award, Ebony’s John H. Johnson Award, and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Chairman's Award, among others. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of International Affairs from American University's School of International Service and an honorary doctorate from Morehouse College.
In May 2019, while at Morehouse College to receive an honorary doctorate and deliver the commencement address, he announced that he and his family would pay off the entire student loan debt of the 2019 Morehouse College graduating class of 396 students. He had previously donated $1.5 million to the school in January 2019, to be used for scholarships and a park.
In October 2019, Smith received the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, which is given to individuals who have donated private wealth to the public. Smith was also inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame as a Class of 2019 Legend. In April 2020, Governor Greg Abbott named Smith to the Strike Force to Open Texas – a group "tasked with finding safe and effective ways to slowly reopen the state" amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In August 2020, Bloomberg reported that Smith was facing a tax inquiry regarding a potential failure to pay U.S. taxes on $200 million in assets, intended for US charities, that were transferred through offshore entities. In October 2020, Smith reached a non-prosecution agreement with the United States Department of Justice, agreeing to pay a fine of $139 million for failure to pay about $200 million in taxes. This agreement came alongside Smith agreeing to assist the DOJ in creating a separate ongoing case, described as the largest tax-evasion case in U.S. history, against Smith's close business associate Robert T. Brockman.
According to a leading tax expert cited by the Washington Post, “The idea of a billionaire tax cheat getting immunity to cooperate against another billionaire tax cheat strikes a lot of people as out of step....For Smith to get a non-prosecution agreement for cooperation is very unusual.”
In 1988, Smith married his first wife, fellow Cornell alum Suzanne McFayden. Smith married Hope Dworaczyk, the founder and CEO of skincare company MUTHA, a former Playboy playmate, healthy living advocate, and fashion editor, on July 25, 2015.
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