Robert F. Smith
is the founding director and President of the Fund II Foundation. Smith’s passion for his African-American heritage and history pervade the Foundation’s mission and spirit.
Inspiring Change Through the Fund II Foundation
Experiencing life as an African-American in America has inspired Smith’s leadership and directed his efforts to promote human rights and the dignity of meaningful work in underserved communities. He is dedicated to supporting programs and organizations that redress social, racial and economic inequalities and improve the lives of the most vulnerable. As Smith progressed through his professional career, he came to recognize the role that internships and mentors who believed in him had in creating opportunities for him, and as a result he has worked with the Fund II Foundation to look at ways to create similar opportunities for the African-American and Latinx communities, as well as women.
“The whole inspiration really comes from an ideological position around how do you liberate the human spirit,” Smith said of his personal philosophy for giving back. “I don’t think there’s anything more beautiful than the liberated human spirit.”
Liberating the human spirit means helping people who traditionally have had few or no resources available to them. One example of this is the $20 million contributed by the Fund II Foundation to Cornell—facilitated by Smith’s connection to his alma mater—to recruit and support underrepresented students in STEM fields through scholarships, graduate fellowships and program funding.
Smith actively rallies corporate America to access Fund II Foundation’s flagship internX program, which aims to increase diversity in the STEM field by matching businesses with internship candidates of diversified backgrounds.
Following Robert F. Smith’s historic $34 million gift to pay off the student loan debt of the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College and their parents, Smith looked for more ways to make generational change to alleviate the burden of crushing student loan debt. In 2020, Smith made a $50 million personal contribution to match a $50 million donation by the Fund II Foundation to endow the nonprofit Student Freedom Initiative. The program launches in fall of 2021 at an initial cohort of Historically Black Colleges and Universities to provide mentoring, tutoring, targeted capacity-building and access to paid internships as well as an income-based loan alternative for junior and senior STEM majors.
Internships for Student Freedom Initiative will be provided via Fund II Foundation’s flagship internX program, which aims to increase diversity in the STEM field by matching businesses with internship candidates of diversified backgrounds.
Smith is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners. Since the company’s inception in 2000, he has directed the firm’s investment strategy and decisions, firm governance and investor relations. Under Smith’s leadership at Vista Equity Partners, the company has exclusively focused on the enterprise software, data and technology-enabled solutions sectors.
Smith completed a Bell Labs internship while still in high school before earning a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University. Following his undergraduate studies, he worked as an engineer for various companies, including Kraft General Foods, where he earned four patents. Smith attended Columbia Business School, where he earned his MBA in 1994. Following graduate school, he worked in technology investment banking for Goldman Sachs in New York City and later San Francisco. In his time at the company, Smith oversaw mergers and acquisitions at tech giants like Apple, Yahoo! and Texas Instruments. He worked for Goldman Sachs until 2000, when he left to found Vista.
At the 2015 commencement for the American University School of International Service, Smith explained his philosophy of success as a race run against oneself. “Running your own race demands trusting yourself even when others don’t,” Smith told the AU graduating class, “because there are going to be people, good people, people who love you, trust you, and who you love and trust…and you’ll come to them with some ideas about what you want to do and how you want to do it, and they’re going to say: That’s crazy.” Smith said that his own family, friends and colleagues warned him first against switching his career from engineering to investment banking, and then later against focusing his new private equity firm solely on enterprise software. But Smith persisted in his own race. “To distinguish yourself today, you have to run toward change, not away from it,” he continued. “You have to run your own race and embrace the rapid change that characterizes our modern world.”
Smith’s industry insights, accomplishments and philanthropy have been recognized repeatedly. TIME magazine named Smith to its 100 Most Influential People in 2020. Forbes awarded Smith a Diversity & Inclusion Award in 2020 for his plan, The 2% Solution, and previously named Smith one of the 100 Greatest Living Business Minds in 2017. He was also included on Bloomberg’s “50 People Who Defined the Year 2019.”
Honors Smith has received include the Distinguished Leadership in Business Award from Columbia Business School, the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy awarded to Mr. Smith in 2019, the UNCF President’s Award, Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Award and in 2020, Cornell University honored Robert Smith with Cornell Engineering’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
He was the first African-American to sign the Giving Pledge, a commitment to contribute the majority of his wealth to philanthropic causes. Smith is on the board of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, as well as Chairman of the Carnegie Hall Board of Trustees. He is also a member of the Columbia Business School Board of Overseers and the Cornell Engineering College Council and a Board Member of the Business Roundtable.
Learn more about Robert F. Smith on his website and connect on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.