Robert F. Smith
is the founding director and President of Fund II Foundation. Smith’s passion for his Black American heritage and history pervade the Foundation’s mission and spirit.
Inspiring Change Through Fund II Foundation
Experiencing life as a Black man in the U.S. has inspired Smith’s leadership and his efforts to uplift underrepresented communities. He is dedicated to supporting programs and organizations that that help improve the lives of the most vulnerable by redressing systemic social, racial and economic inequalities. As Smith advanced through his career, he recognized that his internships and mentors played a significant role in creating opportunities for him. To create similar pathways of opportunity, he and Fund II Foundation work to create onramps for Black Americans and other disadvantaged communities.
“The whole inspiration really comes from an ideological position around how do you liberate the human spirit,” Smith said of his philanthropic philosophy. “I don’t think there’s anything more beautiful than the liberated human spirit.”
Smith has helped to facilitate opportunities to liberate the human spirit through Fund II Foundation. In 2016, the Foundation gifted $20 million to Cornell University, Smith’s alma mater. The generous contribution helped to fund efforts to recruit and support underrepresented students in STEM fields through scholarships and graduate fellowships.
Following Smith’s historic $34 million gift to pay off the student loan debt of the 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College, he was inspired to find more ways to help . In 2020, Smith made a $50 million personal contribution to match a $50 million donation by Fund II Foundation to Student Freedom Initiative.
The Initiative provides mentoring, tutoring, access to paid internships and an income-based loan alternative for junior and senior STEM majors. Internships for Student Freedom Initiative are provided throughFund II Foundation’s flagship internXL program. internXL which aims to increase diversity in the STEM fields by matching businesses with candidates with diverse backgrounds.
Over the course of three years, the Initiative has expanded to serve 34 institutions across the U.S. In 2021, the Initiative launched its first cohort with nine Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The following year, it launched a second cohort with an additional eleven schools. In 2023, the Initiative will introduced its third cohort with fourteen more schools, which will include Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs).
Smith is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners (Vista), a leading global investment firm. Since the company’s inception in 2000, Smith has directed the firm’s investment strategy,decisions,governance and investor relations. Under Smith’s leadership, Vista invests exclusively in enterprise software, data and technology-enabled businesses. Smith was inspired to become an engineer after he completed an internship at Bell Labs while he was in high school. In 1985, he graduated with 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. In 1994, Smith earned his MBA from Columbia Business School. Following graduate school, he worked in technology investment banking for Goldman Sachs. 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 create 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. Smith said, “Running your own race demands trusting yourself even when others don’t.”, He 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.”. 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 consistently recognized and celebrated. In 2020, TIME magazine named Smith to its 100 Most Influential People list. 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. Honors that Smith has received include the Distinguished Leadership in Business Award from Columbia Business School, the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, the UNCF President’s Award andHarvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Award. In 2020, Cornell University also honored Smith with Cornell Engineering’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
Smith was also the first Black American to sign the Giving Pledge, a commitment to contribute the majority of his wealth to philanthropic causes. He also serves on the board of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and is the Chairman of the Carnegie Hall Board of Trustees. Smith 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.