Robert F. Smith
American investor, inventor, engineer, philanthropist and entrepreneur. He is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, which is focused on exclusively investing in enterprise software, data and technology-enabled businesses.
Learn the latest about social justice, innovation, the future of technology, entrepreneurship and related topics from a leading voice in these important areas.
Robert F. Smith was born to two working-class parents in a predominantly Black, middle-class neighborhood in Denver, Colorado. From an early age, his parents stressed the importance of giving back and supporting his community. He first learned that everyone had a role to play in creating a better world from watching his parents, who donated their limited resources to charities like United Negro College Fund (UNCF) on an ongoing basis, no matter what was happening in their personal lives.
In 1985, Smith earned a degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University. After graduating, he began working in the engineering industry in applied research and development and received two U.S. and two European patents and numerous awards. He graduated with honors from Columbia Business School in 1994 and entered investment banking in mergers and acquisitions for Goldman Sachs in New York City and later San Francisco. To empower technology companies in the enterprise software market, Smith launched Vista Equity Partners (Vista), a leading global investment firm, in 2000. Under his leadership, the firm’s portfolio has grown to include some of the world’s leading enterprise software companies.
Throughout his life, Smith’s commitment to philanthropy and equity has never wavered, and finding ways to make a difference in the communities where he lives and works is central to his character and approach to life. During his 2019 commencement address at Morehouse College, a Historically Black College, Smith surprised the graduating class by pledging to pay off the entire class’ student loan debt — a $34 million gift that helped nearly 400 graduates. He is also a major donor to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Student Freedom Initiative (SFI) and the Prostate Cancer Foundation, among many others.
About Vista Equity Partners
Smith is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista, a leading global investment firm.
As one of the most active investors in the enterprise software market, Vista believes in the advancement of technology to create opportunity. Vista manages a robust investment platform by applying market expertise across private equity, permanent capital, credit and public equity investment strategies. This singular focus over the past decades enabled Vista to develop an adaptable, analytical approach to growth that prioritizes value creation through operational transformation in close partnership with founders, leaders and executive teams.
Smith prioritizes making a difference in the communities where he lives and works. In particular, his philanthropy honors the sacrifices and contributions of his parents, grandparents and ancestors, who he says paved the way for his success. Over the years, Smith has made major contributions to Columbia University, Cornell University, Morehouse College, SFI and many other organizations.
In addition to his personal philanthropy, Smith is the founding director and President of Fund II Foundation, a charitable organization making grants to support a broad range of organizations that are focusing efforts on uplifting the Black and Brown communities. In 2017, Smith became the first Black American to sign the Giving Pledge — a commitment to donate a majority of his net worth during his lifetime to charitable causes.
Economic justice can only be achieved when pathways to educational, professional and economic opportunities are provided to those from underserved communities. Learn about the initiatives Smith supports that are facilitating systemic and sustainable solutions.
Student Freedom Initiative
Student Freedom Initiative (SFI) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that provides a catalyst for freedom in professional and life choices for students attending HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) by increasing their social and economic mobility via affordable access to a college education, opportunity for hands-on professional and life training, integrated student services and technology enhancement.
Southern Communities Initiative
The majority of Black Americans live in just six communities in the U.S. — Birmingham, AL; Houston, TX; New Orleans, LA; Atlanta, GA; Charlotte, NC; and Memphis, TN. Southern Communities Initiative concentrates its efforts to close gaps in funding education, technology, homeownership, healthcare, employment opportunities and more in these communities. This effort aims to drive corporate collaboration with local grassroots community organizations to help achieve scalable projects that can be rolled out across the country wherever inequity exists.
Watch the latest videos of Smith’s speeches, TV interviews and other appearances.
On August 26, 2023, thousands gathered in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. During the anniversary celebration, Robert F. Smith delivered a speech that highlighted the ongoing barriers to economic equity that Black Americans face. Smith also urged Black Americans to take action by using their voices, votes and funds to achieve parity.
Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners spoke at the “Value. Vision. Voice. Black Men in Leadership Conference 2021.” During the virtual event Smith answered questions from Executive Leadership Council (ELC) President and CEO Michael C. Hyter. In this video clip, which is the sixth video of a series, Smith fielded questions from conference participants as well as Hyter. Smith’s remarks touched on mentoring, the importance of internships and understanding investments from the point of view of investors.
Smith received accolades from a number of different organizations for his charitable work, entrepreneurship and industry leadership. Among the recognitions he received are: