Smith's Work and Philanthropy

Robert F. Smith is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners (Vista), a leading global investment firm that primarily specializes in enterprise software, data and technology-enabled businesses.


A prolific philanthropist, Smith is the founding director and President of Fund II Foundation, which provides grants to charities. In 2019, Smith pledged to pay off the student loan debt of the Morehouse College graduating class, a gift that totaled over $34 million.

Coin in Hand

Following his donation to Morehouse College, Smith helped to establish Student Freedom Initiative to further address student loan debt by supporting students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). To launch the Initiative, Smith personally contributed $50 million, matching the $50 million grant from Fund II Foundation.

Graduation Cap

Applicants accepted to the program receive financial assistance in the form of scholarships, as well as additional resources and a family environment to help the participants thrive in their post-secondary education.

More About Robert F. Smith

Smith was born in Denver, Colorado to two educators who taught him the value and power of a good education at an early age.

To further his educational ambitions, Smith applied for and earned a coveted internship at Bell Labs while still a high school student, which was usually reserved for college students.

After high school, Smith went on to graduate with a chemical engineering degree from Cornell University. He later worked at several top companies, including Kraft General Foods as an engineer.

Given Smith's passion for science and investment banking, Smith pursued an MBA from Columbia University. After graduating with honors, he worked for Goldman Sachs before founding Vista in 2000.

Over the years, Smith has made it a priority to give back to numerous charitable organizations and nonprofits, especially those that provide educational opportunities to underrepresented groups.

In 2017, he became the first Black American to sign the Giving Pledge, committing to donate a majority of his net worth over his lifetime. He has also provided funding to his alma maters, including $25 million in gifts to Columbia University and $35 million in donations to Cornell University's College of Engineering. In 2021, he helped with the launch of Southern Communities Initiative, which provides resources to the six Southern communities that are home to more than 50% of all Black Americans.

Smith's philanthropic efforts and business endeavors have earned him many honors, including:

  • The Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy
  • The Ripple of Hope Award from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  • UNCF's President's Award
  • The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Chair's Award
  • The Philanthropy Icon Award at theGrio Awards
  • The Jackie Robinson Foundation ROBIE Achievement in Industry Award

Smith was also listed among Forbes' 100 Greatest Living Business Minds, as well as TIME100's “Most Influential People of 2020,” and was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame in 2019. In 2023, Smith and his wife, Hope Smith, were awarded the Founders Award from Foster Love. He also currently serves as the Chairman of Student Freedom Initiative, is on the Board of Overseers at Columbia Business School and is a member of the Cornell Engineering College Council and the Executive Committee of the Business Roundtable.

Learn more about Smith by following him on social media.

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