Robert F. Smith’s Grant to Morehouse Students Is Hardly His First Philanthropic Effort

Smith is the chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a private equity group he founded in 2000

Robert F. Smith
A portrait of billionaire philanthropist Robert F. Smith. (Ricky Carioti/ The Washington Post via Getty)
The Washington Post/Getty Images

When billionaire Robert F. Smith announced in his commencement address to the students of Morehouse College on Sunday that he was paying off their student loan debt, there was a mix of cheers, tears and questions of, “Wait, who is Robert F. Smith?”

Smith is the chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a private equity group he founded in 2000 that invests in software companies, Time reported. The company is quite the big deal in its industry and is currently managing about $46 billion in investments, with a portfolio of more than 50 software companies that employ over 60,000 people around the world.

While Smith’s generous gift is valued at an estimated $40 million, according to the Associated Press, that huge sum won’t make too big a dent in his pocket as Forbes estimates his net worth at about $5 billion.

The 56-year-old is a graduate of Cornell and the Columbia Business School who was raised in Colorado, according to Time. He was employed by Kraft General Foods and then by Goldman Sachs before starting his own firm.

His Morehouse gift is hardly the first example of considerable impact he’s made with his wealth.

Smith signed the Giving Pledge in 2017, which aligned him with a group of other super rich folks — think Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett — in a public commitment to donate the majority of their wealth to charitable efforts. Smith gave a $20 million dollar gift to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. in 2016. He also donated $50 million to Cornell in 2016, prompting the university to rename its Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering School after him.

Smith is the founding director and president of the Fund II Foundation, an organization that preserves African American culture and makes grants towards efforts in human rights, environmental conservation, music education and “sustaining the American values of entrepreneurship, empowerment, innovation and security.”

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