Robert F. Smith
Founder, Chairman and CEO, Vista Equity Partners
Robert F. Smith is an entrepreneur, investment banking thought leader and philanthropist who is dedicated to reducing inequality, increasing minority access to opportunity and improving the future for all. He has contributed to causes related to professional development, music, education, the arts, the environment, and the preservation and promotion of African American culture and history, among others.
Smith served as the Chairman of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights 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 criminal justice system in the United States.
In May 2017, Smith signed on to the Giving Pledge, the first African American to do so, committing to invest half of his net worth during his lifetime to charitable causes. In his pledge, he declared support for efforts that work toward equal opportunity for African 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."
In his commencement address at Morehouse College in 2019, Smith surprised the graduating class with the announcement that he would pay off the entirety of their student loan debt, including loans taken out by their parents to pay for their education—a total commitment of $34 million. During his speech, Smith challenged Morehouse graduates, alumni and supporters to give the same opportunity to future generations.
Smith created Vista Equity Partners in 2000 after leaving Goldman Sachs, where he handled mergers and acquisitions for companies like Apple, Microsoft and Texas Instruments in Silicon Valley. Headquartered in Austin, TX, Vista invests exclusively in enterprise software companies with a focus on promoting diversity, enhancing sustainability and strengthening the global community, while also delivering on commitments to investors. Under Smith's leadership, Vista has been named a top-performing private equity firm multiple times by the HEC‐Dow Jones annual ranking. Smith himself has been named by Forbes as one of the 100 Greatest Living Business Minds, and in 2019 he became a Texas Business Hall of Fame inductee.
Smith serves as the Chairman of Carnegie Hall, founding director and President of the Fund II Foundation, a Trustee of the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco, a Member of the Board of Overseers of Columbia Business School, and as a Member of the Cornell Engineering College Council. He 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, and his MBA with honors from Columbia Business School.