Meet Robert F. Smith, A Philanthropist, HBCU Advocate And The Wealthiest Black Man In America
Photo Credit: Simon Dawson

Meet Robert F. Smith, A Philanthropist, HBCU Advocate And The Wealthiest Black Man In America

Robert F. Smith first came to everyone’s attention back in 2019, when he received his honorary doctorate from famed Historically Black College, Morehouse College.

At that time, while he was receiving his doctorate, Smith announced that he’d be paying off the student loans for all who had them in his graduating class. Since then, Smith has launched an Historically Black College and University (HBCU) “alternative loans” initiative program, has had millions of dollars donated to his HBCU initiatives by some of the world’s leading companies, and became the richest Black man in America.

Yet, all of these initiatives didn’t make a dent in Robert F. Smith’s net worth. According to Forbes, as of this writing, he has a net worth of $6.7 billion, and it’s only growing from here.

“The most important thing you can do as a young person in [the Black] community is to become an expert,” Smith once said. [It’s key] “to become skilled in whatever it is that you are desirous of doing. And that takes countless hours and in some cases outreach for knowledge and information and in some cases it’s [about] building a learned capability. To me there is no substitute for that….There’s no substitute for becoming an expert and being the best at your craft. And that’s what I focused on.”

In short, Robert F. Smith is nothing short of an all-American, self-made success story. Let’s take a look at how he became a billionaire.

Vista Equity Partners

Courtesy of Vista Equity Partners

Smith founded the private equity firm, Vista Equity Partners, back in 2000. According to Black Enterprise, one of the main things that made Robert F. Smith a multi-billionaire was his ability to provide a 30 percent return for his investors for the past 20 years. Vista Equity Partners has invested in the likes of such companies as STATS, Ping Identity, and Jio. As of 2019, Vista Equity Partners has closed more than $46 billion in funding, according to CNN.

Philanthropy

Photo Credit: Jason Kempin

In addition to all his work with Vista Equity Partners, Robert F. Smith is a philanthropist. He is the founding director and president of the Fund II Foundation, which has invested in organizations such as Cornell, the National Park Foundation, and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

In 2017, he was named to The Philanthropy 50 list, which recognizes the top philanthropists all over the world.

He has also donated to the Sphinx Foundation, which has named a monetary prize for diversity in the arts in his honor.

In the past, he sat on the board for the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights foundation.

Chemical Engineering

Robert F. Smith got his start as a chemical engineer. He first expressed interest in becoming an engineer while he was still at East High School in Denver, CO. He’d applied for an internship at Bell Labs, but was told he couldn’t get it until he became a college student. However, when a college student dropped out of the program, he signed up.

After graduating from Cornell University, Smith worked for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Air Products & Chemicals, and Kraft General Foods as a chemical engineer. While at Kraft, he registered two United States and two European patents — including one for brewed coffee!

Other Ventures

Photo Credit: Michael Nagle

According to KXAN, Robert F. Smith received an honorary doctorate from Huston-Tillotson University in 2014. Just one year later, in 2015, Smith sponsored college education for girls who were victims of Boko Haram.

“We’ve got the Black Lives Matter campaign going on [in the US] at the moment, and these girls matter too. Their lives matter not just because of the events that happened, but just because their lives matter,” he said to The Guardian.

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