Robert F. Smith

Founder, Chairman and CEO, Vista Equity Partners
Robert F. Smith smiling while wearing a blue suit and vest, white shirt and blue tie.

Entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners (Vista), a leading global investment firm. He is dedicated to reducing inequality, increasing opportunities for communities with fewer resources and improving the future for all.

Smith is a board member of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and served as its Chairman from 2013 – 2020. He won the organization’s Ripple of Hope Award in 2010 and has been a key driver of the organization’s focus on racial inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system.

In 2017, Smith signed the Giving Pledge, the first Black American to do so, committing to donate the majority of his net worth to charitable causes. In his pledge letter, he declared support for efforts that work toward equal opportunity for Black Americans, as well as efforts to protect the planet for future generations.

“We will only grasp the staggering potential of our time if we create onramps that empower ALL people to participate,” Smith wrote, “regardless of background, country of origin, religious practice, gender, or color of skin.”

Robert F. Smith

In 2019, Smith shocked the world during the commencement address he delivered at Morehouse College. During his speech, Smith pledged to eliminate the student loan debt of the graduating class, including Parent PLUS loans taken out by students’ guardians on their behalf. He only asked for one thing from the Morehouse graduates in return: to pay it forward to future generations. Inspired by the positive impact of his Morehouse donation, Smith was eager to do more. As a result, he established the Student Freedom Initiative (SFI). SFI is a nonprofit organization that provides eligible students at participating Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) with academic, professional and monetary support. Smith proudly serves as the Chairman of SFI. Smith also co-leads Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). SCI is an organization that is dedicated to advancing racial equity in six Southern U.S. communities, which are home to more than 50% of Black Americans.

Smith’s commitment to philanthropy and education stems from his upbringing. When he was growing up, his mother contributed $25 to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) every month, regardless of the family’s financial situation. Throughout his life, Smith has worked to pay it forward. Since 2014, Smith has served as the founding director and President of Fund II Foundation to develop opportunities for others. Fund II Foundation works to preserve the Black American experience, protect human rights and the environment, support music education and uphold American values.

Smith earned his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University, where the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering now bears his name. After working as an engineer for several years, he earned his MBA with honors from Columbia Business School, where he is now a Member of the Board of Overseers. Smith also serves as the Chairman of Carnegie Hall.

His accomplishments as a business leader have earned him many industry recognitions. Forbes named him one of the 100 Greatest Living Business Minds in 2017. In 2023, he was named one of The Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Capitalism (DEIC) Power 100 icons. That same year, he was honored for his philanthropic work with the George H.W. Bush Points of Light Award, the HBCU Impact Award, and the Founders Award from Foster Love. His firm, Vista, was also recognized as 2023’s Global Technology Private Equity Firm of the Year by Private Equity International (PEI). In 2022, he received theGrio’s Philanthropy Icon Award.

For updates on Smith’s professional and philanthropic work, follow him on LinkedIn, X, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.