Robert F. Smith (investor)

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Robert F. Smith
Robert Frederick Smith

(1962-12-01) December 1, 1962 (age 57)
NationalityUnited States
Alma materCornell University
Columbia Business School
Net worthUS$5 billion (Forbes September 2019)[1]
Suzanne McFayden
(m. 1988; div. 2014)

Hope Dworaczyk (m. 2015)

Robert Frederick Smith (born December 1, 1962) is an American billionaire businessman, philanthropist, chemical engineer, and investment banker. He is the founder, chairman, and CEO of private equity firm Vista Equity Partners. In 2018, Smith was ranked by Forbes as the 163rd richest person in America.[1] He was No. 480 on Forbes 2018 list of the world's billionaires, with a net worth of US$4.4 billion.[1] Smith was also included in Vanity Fair’s New Establishment List.[2] In 2017, Smith was named by Forbes as one of the 100 greatest living business minds.[3] In a 2018 cover story, Forbes declared Smith the wealthiest African-American, surpassing Oprah Winfrey.[4]

Early life[edit]

Robert F. Smith was born a fourth generation Coloradoan to Dr. William Robert Smith and Dr. Sylvia Myma Smith, who were both school teachers with PhDs.[5] He grew up in a predominantly African American, middle-class neighborhood in Denver. He attended Carson Elementary School in Denver.[5]

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.

In high school, he applied for an internship at Bell Labs but was told the program was intended for college students. Smith persisted, calling every day. 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.[6][7] At Cornell he became a brother of Alpha Phi Alpha.


After working at Air Products & Chemicals, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, and later at Kraft General Foods as a chemical engineer,[5] where he earned two United States and two European patents, he attended Columbia Business School.[8] Smith earned an MBA with honors specializing in finance and marketing.[5] From 1994 to 2000, he joined Goldman Sachs in technology investment banking, first in New York City and then in Silicon Valley. He advised on over $50 billion in merger and acquisition activity with companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Texas Instruments, eBay, and Yahoo. He was the first person in the Goldman Sachs San Francisco office to focus solely on technology mergers and acquisitions.

Vista Equity Partners[edit]

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. As of 2019, Vista has over $46 billion in cumulative capital commitments, owns over 50 software companies and has 60,000 employees worldwide,[9][10] making it the fourth largest enterprise software company after Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP.[11] Vista has exclusively focused on the enterprise software, data and technology sectors. Among Vista's portfolio companies are Finastra, TIBCO, Solera, Infoblox, Mediaocean, Vertafore, Ping Identity, Lithium, Cvent, and Datto.

In October 2014, Vista closed its Fund V at $5.8 billion.[12]

In January 2015, Vista Equity Partners was named the best performing private equity firm for the previous 10 years, according to the HEC-Dow Jones annual ranking conducted by professor Oliver Gottschalg.[13] Preqin, a consulting firm that tracks the industry, reports that Vista's third fund returned $2.46 for every dollar invested, better than every other big fund raised between 2006 and 2010, the boom years for private equity.[7]

In 2017, Vista Equity Partners was reported to have $30 billion under management,[14] and Smith was named as Private Equity International's 2016 Game Changer of the Year.[15]

In May 2019, Vista Equity Partners put in a bid to buy Kantar, the data analytics business owned by WPP.[16]

Philanthropy and public positions[edit]

Smith is the board chairman of Carnegie Hall; he is the first African American to hold that position.[17]

Smith is the founding director and president of the Fund II Foundation.[18] Under his leadership, Fund II Foundation has invested in organizations such as Cornell, UNCF, National Park Foundation, Susan G. Komen, and Global Wildlife Conservation, among many others.[19]

He is the chairman of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights,[20] serves on the board of overseers of Columbia Business School, as a member of the Cornell Engineering College Council,[21] and a Trustee of the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco.[22]

In 2018, Smith was the largest individual donor at the City of Hope Gala, earmarking funds towards prostate cancer treatment for black men and for breast cancer research for black women.[23] Smith also donated $2.5 million to the Prostate Cancer Foundation to advance prostate cancer research among African-American men.[24] Also in 2018, Smith donated $1 million to the Cultural Performance Center at the Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park in Harlem, which was subsequently named the Robert Frederick Smith Center for Performing Arts in recognition of his gift.[25]

Smith was named as one of the "Philanthropy 50" by The Chronicle of Philanthropy in 2017.[26] In May 2017, The Giving Pledge announced that Smith had joined its ranks as its first African-American signatory.[27] Smith is a member of the board of the Louis Armstrong House Museum, the only authentically preserved home of a jazz musician in the country, which manages the Louis Armstrong Research Collections, the largest single jazz musician archive in the world. With Smith's leadership at the Fund II Foundation, the museum has digitized the entire collection Armstrong left behind and made it available to the public.[28]

In 2016, Cornell University recognized Smith's leadership by naming the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering after him.[29]

Among the honors and awards Smith has received are the Candle in Business and Philanthropy Award from Morehouse College,[30] the International Medical Corps Humanitarian of the Year Award,[31] Ebony’s John H. Johnson Award,[32] the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Chairman's Award,[33] the Reginald F. Lewis Achievement Award, the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Robert Toigo Foundation, and the Ripple of Hope Award from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. Smith was also awarded an honorary doctorate of International Affairs from American University's School of International Service[34] and an honorary doctorate from Morehouse College.[35]

In October 2019, Smith received the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, recognizing him as one of “the most charitable and visionary philanthropists in the world”.[36] Smith was also inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame as a Class of 2019 Legend in recognition of the “profound impact he made on the State’s economic growth”, as well as using his resources and influence to “better his community”.[37]

In May 2019, when he was at Morehouse College to receive an honorary doctorate and deliver the commencement address, he told the graduates he and his family would pay off the entire student loan debt of the 2019 Morehouse College graduating class of 396 students.[38][39] "This is my class", he told the graduating seniors, "and I know my class will pay this forward".[35][40] He had previously donated $1.5 million to the school in January 2019, to be used for scholarships and a park.[41]

Personal life[edit]

Smith married his first wife, fellow Cornell alum Suzanne McFayden Smith, in 1988. They were married for 22 years before they separated in 2010; their divorce was finalized in 2014. Smith married Hope Dworaczyk, a former Playboy playmate, healthy living advocate, and fashion editor, on July 25, 2015.[42][43] He has three children with his first wife, Zoe Smith, Eliana Smith and Max Smith.[44] Robert also has two sons with his wife Hope, Hendrix Robert Smith, born on December 19, 2014 and Legend Robert Smith, born on March 16, 2016.[45][46] Smith owns a home in Austin, Texas,[47] a home in Malibu, California that he bought for $19.5 million from Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Yolanda Hadid Foster, and a home in New York City he bought for $59 million.[48]


  1. ^ a b c "Robert Smith". Forbes. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
  2. ^ "The 2018 New Establishment List". The Hive. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
  3. ^ "100 Greatest Living Business Minds". Forbes. Retrieved May 19, 2019.
  4. ^ Vardi, Nathan. "Richer Than Oprah: How the Nation's Wealthiest African-American Conquered Tech and Wall Street". Forbes.
  5. ^ a b c d D. Castle, Michael (July 14, 2016). Black In America This Century Hurts. ISBN 978-1-365-22265-8.
  6. ^ Reeves, Benjamin (April 8, 2015). "Private Equity's Philosopher | Alumni". Retrieved October 9, 2015.
  7. ^ a b David Gelles (April 10, 2014). "A Private Equity Titan With a Narrow Focus and Broad Aims". The New York Times. Retrieved October 9, 2015.
  8. ^ Alexander, Keith L. (September 24, 2016). "'Who is this Robert Smith?': A quiet billionaire makes some noise with $20 million gift to the African American museum". The Washington Post.
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  10. ^ "Vista Equity Partners to pay $1.9 billion in private-equity deal for Apptio". GeekWire. November 12, 2018. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
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  12. ^ Tan, Gillian (October 14, 2014). "Vista Equity Partners Emerges From Private-Equity Shadows". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 9, 2015.
  13. ^ "HEC-Dow Jones Private Equity Performance Rankings: Which Firms Generated Best Performance for Their Investors Over the Past Years?". PERACS. January 19, 2015. Retrieved October 9, 2015.
  14. ^ Cronin, Mike (May 26, 2017). "Vista Equity billion-dollar buyout fund ranks among best-performing in U.S." Austin Business Journal. Retrieved May 19, 2019.
  15. ^ Mitchenall, Toby (March 1, 2017). "Vista's Smith named PEI's 2016 'Game Changer'". Private Equity International. Retrieved May 19, 2019.
  16. ^ Duke, Simon (May 28, 2019). "US tycoon sets sights on Kantar". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  17. ^ Smith, Jennifer (June 2, 2016). "Carnegie Hall Names New Board Chairman: Private-Equity Financier Robert F. Smith". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  18. ^ "Robert F. Smith". Inside Philanthropy. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
  19. ^ "Now the Richest Black American, He's Also One of America's Biggest Philanthropists". Inside Philanthropy. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
  20. ^ "Robert Smith | Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights". RFK Human Rights. Retrieved October 9, 2015.
  21. ^ "ECC Active Members 2015" (PDF). Retrieved October 9, 2015.
  22. ^ "Board & Trustees". Retrieved October 9, 2015.
  23. ^ "Warner/Chappell Music CEO Jon Platt Lauded at City of Hope Gala: 'He's the Obama of the Music Industry'". Billboard. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
  24. ^ "Billionaire, Power 100 Honoree, Robert F. Smith Donates to Prostate Cancer • EBONY". EBONY. January 16, 2018. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
  25. ^ "Riverbank's Cultural Center Renamed After $1 Million Gift". Retrieved November 18, 2018.
  26. ^ "The 2017 Philanthropy 50". The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
  27. ^ "7 More U.S. Philanthropists Sign Giving Pledge". May 30, 2017.
  28. ^ "Louis Armstrong's Life in Letters, Music and Art". Retrieved November 18, 2018.
  29. ^ "Cornell names Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in recognition of the leadership of philanthropist". Cornell Chronicle.
  30. ^ "Morehouse gets two $1M gifts at anniversary gala". Retrieved November 18, 2018.
  31. ^ "AAC 2018". International Medical Corps. November 6, 2018. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
  32. ^ "EBONY Power 100 2017 Honoree - Robert F. Smith". EBONY Power 100 2017. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
  33. ^ "President Obama to Deliver Final Keynote at 46th ALC Phoenix Awards Dinner - Congressional Black Caucus Foundation". August 24, 2016.
  34. ^ American University (May 10, 2015), SIS Commencement Speaker Robert F. Smith, retrieved November 18, 2018
  35. ^ a b Emerson, Bo (May 19, 2019). "JUST IN: Morehouse commencement speaker to pay off Class of 2019's student loans". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved May 19, 2019.
  36. ^ "Announcing the 2019 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy Recipients". Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy. Retrieved October 17, 2019.
  37. ^ "Kendra Scott's and Robert Smith Invited to be Inducted in 2019 - Texas Business Hall of Fame". Retrieved October 17, 2019.
  38. ^ "Billionaire Robert F. Smith pledges to pay off Morehouse College Class of 2019′s student loans". The Washington Post. May 19, 2019. Retrieved May 20, 2019.
  39. ^ Whack, Errin Haines (May 19, 2019). "Graduation speaker pledges to pay class of 2019 student debt". Associated Press. Retrieved May 19, 2019.
  40. ^ Burch, Audra D. S.; Gelles, David (May 19, 2019). "Morehouse Graduates' Student Loans to Be Paid Off by Billionaire". The New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2019.
  41. ^ Stirgus, Eric (January 18, 2019). "Morehouse to use $1.5 million gift on scholarships and a new park". The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Retrieved May 19, 2019.
  42. ^ "Hope Dworaczyk Smith Pregnant With Second Child!". Us Weekly. September 28, 2015. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  43. ^ "'Who is this Robert Smith?': A quiet billionaire makes some noise with $20 million gift to the African American museum". Washington Post. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  44. ^ May 22, Caroline John-Published:; Am, 2019 at 9:49 (May 22, 2019). "Suzanne McFayden Wiki: Facts about Billionaire Robert F. Smith's Ex-Wife". Earn The Necklace. Retrieved May 24, 2019.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  45. ^ "Hope Smith on Instagram: "What a ONEderful year it has been! Here's the aftermath of a successful 1st birthday cake smash. Thank you for choosing me to be your…"". Instagram. Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  46. ^ "Hope Smith on Instagram: "Our hands are full of happiness and our hearts full of love... Welcome to the world Legend Robert Smith. 7lbs 8oz 20&3/4 inches long.…"". Instagram. Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  47. ^ "The World's Billionaires (2016 ranking): #688 Robert Smith". Forbes. March 1, 2016. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
  48. ^ "Real Housewives of Malibu Part 2: Yolanda Hadid Foster sells to Robert & Hope Smith for nearly $20 million". May 12, 2016.