Robert F. Smith is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners. He directs Vista’s investment strategy and decisions, governance and investor relations. Vista currently manages equity capital commitments of over $57 billion and oversees a portfolio of more than 60 enterprise software, data and technology-enabled companies that employ over 70,000 people worldwide. Since Vista’s inception, Mr. Smith has supervised over 440 completed transactions representing more than $140 billion in aggregate transaction value.
Early Life and Career
Born in Colorado to two parents with Doctor of Education (EdD) degrees, Mr. Smith trained as an engineer at Cornell University, earning his B.S. in Chemical Engineering. While earning his MBA from Columbia Business School with honors, he served as President of the Black Business Students’ Association and President of the Japan Business Association. After graduation, he worked at Goodyear Tire and Rubber, followed by Kraft General Foods, where he obtained two United States and two European patents.
In 1994, he joined Goldman Sachs in tech investment banking, first in New York City and then in Silicon Valley. As Co‐Head of Enterprise Systems and Storage, he executed and 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 San Francisco at Goldman to focus solely on mergers and acquisitions of technology and software companies.
In 2000, Mr. Smith founded Vista Equity Partners, along with Co-Founder Brian Sheth, to invest in businesses that develop and use technology, software and data to promote economic equity, ecological responsibility and diversity and inclusion for the prosperity of all. Vista achieves its mission of creating opportunity through the power of technology by using a variety of private equity, permanent capital, credit and public equity investment strategies.
As one of the top experts on investing in the software and technology industry in the world, Mr. Smith has been invited to speak about finance, entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership and related topics at a variety of venues, including the World Economic Forum and The Milken Institute, among others. He has also appeared in numerous interviews for television, written publications, podcasts and other media.
Philanthropy and Recognitions
Mr. Smith is the founding director and President of the Fund II Foundation. Started in 2014, the Foundation provides grants to fund efforts that conserve African American experiences and culture for future generations, rectify human rights abuses, promote music education for young people, protect the environment through advocacy and awareness of the benefits of the outdoors, and uphold vital American values such as empowerment, innovation and security for all. Mr. Smith has been a leading voice advocating for companies to take diverse internship candidates in STEM fields. Under his leadership, in 2019, Fund II Foundation launched InternX, a platform to match leading companies with diverse internship candidates. Vista runs its own internship offering to boost diversity, the Vista Frontier Fellows Program.
In 2016, Mr. Smith and the Fund II Foundation received the Frederick D. Patterson Award, the highest recognition awarded by the UNCF, an organization that focuses on increasing access to higher education for underrepresented students. In 2019, Mr. Smith received the UNCF President’s Award, and at the award ceremony, he announced a matching gift of all funds raised during the gala event.
Also in 2016, Cornell University honored Mr. Smith’s leadership by naming the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. The same year, Mr. Smith announced a personal contribution of $20 million to Cornell University’s College of Engineering, plus another $10 million in scholarships for African Americans and women pursuing technology-related degrees. Mr. Smith is a Member of the Cornell Engineering College Council.
In 2017, Mr. Smith signed on to the Giving Pledge, the only African American to do so. In his pledge, Mr. Smith committed to investing half of his net worth during his lifetime “to causes that support equality of opportunity for African Americans, as well as causes that cultivate ecological protection to ensure a livable planet for future generations.” That same year he was named by Forbes as one of the 100 Greatest Living Business Minds.
In 2019, Mr. Smith received the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy. The medal citation by the award committee cites his dedication to educational programs that create opportunities for current and future generations.
Also in 2019, Mr. Smith received an honorary doctorate from Morehouse College and made headlines by announcing that he would cover the student loan debt of nearly 400 students in the graduating class in a commencement address. In May 2019, he was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame, and in December 2019, he was included on Bloomberg’s list of the 50 people who defined the year.
In 2020, Mr. Smith received Cornell Engineering’s 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award for his philanthropic work and dedication to inclusion and diversity in the technology industry.
Mr. Smith’s business achievements and global philanthropic works have received recognition from numerous other entities, including Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Award, the International Medical Corps’ Humanitarian of the Year Award, the Morehouse Candle Award in Business and Philanthropy, Ebony’s first John H. Johnson Award, the Jackie Robinson Foundation ROBIE Achievement in Industry Award, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Chair’s Award, the Reginald F. Lewis Achievement Award, the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Robert Toigo Foundation, the Ripple of Hope Award from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Award of Excellence from the National Association of Investment Companies, the Pierre Toussaint Award from the Archdiocese of New York, the Columbia University BBSA Distinguished Alumni Award, and the Ron Brown Scholar Program American Journey Award, among others.
He is a major donor to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, at which he has established the Robert F. Smith Internship Program. He also is the Chairman of Carnegie Hall and the Chair of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. He serves on the Board of Overseers of Columbia Business School and as a Trustee of the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco.
B.S. in Chemical Engineering, Cornell University
MBA, Concentration in Finance and Marketing, Columbia Business School