Robert F. Smith: The Wealthiest African American.


Robert Frederick Smith (born December 1, 1962) is an American billionaire businessman and investor and philanthropist. Smith is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners; a private equity firm focused on investing and partnering with leading enterprise software companies.

Robert F. Smith is the wealthiest African American, with a net worth of $8 Billion. In 2019, Smith pledged to pay off the student loan debt of the entire 2019 graduating class of all-male, historically black Morehouse College students and their parents with a $34 million gift.

Early Life

Robert Frederick Smith was born on December 1, 1962, in Denver, Colorado. Both of his parents earned PhDs and worked as teachers before becoming high school principals. As a high school junior, he applied for a summer internship at Bell Labs but was told that only college students would be considered. Smith persisted by calling the company every week for five months, and his tenacity paid off: When a student did not show up in June, Smith got the spot.

Smith developed a reliability test for semiconductors as a summer intern at Bell Labs.

As an infant, Smith followed his mum to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where 250,000 people gathered to draw attention to continuing challenges and inequalities faced by African Americans a century after emancipation. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his now iconic “I Have a Dream” speech at the August 1963 event.


Smith enrolled at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, to study chemical engineering and continued working at Bell Labs during summers and winter breaks during the next four years. Smith earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University in 1985 and an MBA from Columbia Business School in 1994.

 While earning his MBA from Columbia Business School with honours, he served as President of the Black Business Students’ Association and President of the Japan Business Association.

Early Career

After earning his undergraduate degree in 1985, Smith worked as an engineer at Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Air Products and Chemicals, and Kraft General Foods. At Kraft, Smith patented a coffee brewing method for the company and 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.

Goldman Sachs

Prior to Vista, he worked at Goldman Sachs in technology investment banking, where he facilitated mergers and acquisitions for large technology companies, including Apple and Microsoft, among others.

Smith joined the investment giant Goldman Sachs as a specialist in mergers and acquisitions in Silicon Valley

Vista Partners

Robert F. Smith founded the private equity firm Vista Equity Partners in 2000. The firm focuses exclusively on investing in software companies. With $96 billion in assets, Vista is one of the best-performing private equity firms, posting annualized returns of 22% since inception.

Vista Partners currently manages equity assets under management of $96 billion and oversees a portfolio of more than 85 enterprise software, data and technology-enabled companies that employ over 90,000 people worldwide.

Smith sits on the Investment Committees for Vista’s Flagship, Foundation, Endeavor and Perennial Funds and serves as a member of Vista’s Executive Committee, the firm’s governing and decision-making body for matters affecting its overall management and strategic direction, and Private Equity Management Committee, the firm’s decision-making body for matters affecting Vista’s overall private equity platform.

Since Vista’s inception, Smith has supervised over 570 completed transactions representing more than $265 billion in aggregate transaction value.

Smith is also an executive producer behind the creation of Black History in Two Minutes (Or So), a digital video podcast developed to “preserve the African American experience and democratize online learning source.

Student Freedom Initiative

Robert F. Smith is the first African-American to sign the Giving Pledge, a commitment to contribute the majority of his wealth to philanthropic causes. In 2016, Smith donated $20 million to the National Museum of African American History. The museum designated its Explore Your Family History Center as the Robert F. Smith Explore Your Family History Center.

Smith is the founding director and President of the** Fund II Foundation,** a charitable nonprofit organization serving the Black community through grants to preserve culture, protect the environment, nurture talent through education and liberate the human spirit by connecting the students of today with the tools to become the leaders of tomorrow.


  • Carnegie Hall’s Board of Trustees - Chairman
  • Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights - Chairman
  • Board of Overseers of Columbia Business School - Member
  • Executive Committee of Business Roundtable - Member
  • Cornell Engineering College Council - Member
  • Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco - Trustee
  • REFORM Alliance - Founding Partner
  • Fund II Foundation - founding director and President


  • Forbes’ 100 Greatest Living Business Minds
  • Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy Recipient.
  •  Cornell Engineering’s Distinguished Alumni Award - 2020
  •  TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People - 2020
  • Forbes Diversity & Inclusion Award - 2020
  • Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Award - 2019
  • International Medical Corps, Humanitarian of the Year - 2018
  • Forbes 100 Greatest Living Business Minds - 2017

 In January 2016, Cornell University honoured Smith’s leadership by naming the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Robert F. Smith is part of our Black Excellence Series.

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