Who is Robert Smith, the man paying off Morehouse Graduates’ loans?https://indianexpress.com/article/world/who-is-robert-smith-the-man-paying-off-morehouse-graduates-loans-5737298/

Who is Robert Smith, the man paying off Morehouse Graduates’ loans?

It was just the latest substantial gesture from Smith, the richest black man in America, who until just a few years ago was practically unknown.

Who is Robert Smith, the man paying off Morehouse Graduates’ loans?
FILE — Robert F. Smith, the founder and chief executive of Vista Equity Partners, in New York, Feb. 12, 2014. Smith, who is paying off Morehouse graduates’ loans, amassed a fortune estimated to be worth billion but until just a few years ago was practically unknown. (Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times)

Written by David Gelles

Robert Smith was giving the commencement address to the graduating class of Morehouse College on Sunday when he made a surprise announcement: He would be paying off the student loans of the roughly 400 graduates.

It was just the latest substantial gesture from Smith, the richest black man in America, who until just a few years ago was practically unknown.

Who is Robert Smith, the man paying off Morehouse Graduates’ loans?
John Cooper, a political science major with $98,000 in student loans, after graduating from Morehouse, a historically black college in Atlanta, May 19, 2019. The commencement speaker, Robert F. Smith, the richest black man in the United States, promised to pay off the debt of all 396 graduates of the class of 2019. “Not only does this donation help create generational wealth, but it inspires people to give back,” Cooper said. (Audra Melton/The New York Times)

Here’s what you need to know about him:

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— Smith has amassed a fortune that Forbes estimates to be worth $5 billion by founding Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm that focuses on buying and selling software firms.

— Vista has about $46 billion in assets under management, according to Forbes. The company is privately held and does not publicly report its results, but it is believed to be one of the best-performing firms in the country, with annualized returns of more than 20% since its founding.

— Vista has unconventional hiring practices. Rather than seek out people with Ivy League degrees or recruit top talent from Silicon Valley, Smith looks for skilled engineers and managers from other professions who might thrive inside his companies. As part of its hiring efforts, Vista uses a personality test first developed by IBM that gauges technical and social skills, as well as a candidate’s interest in the arts and humanities.

— Smith grew up in a mostly black, middle-class neighborhood in Denver. Both of his parents had doctorates in education, and he was ambitious from an early age. He applied for an internship at Bell Labs in high school, but was told he was too young. Smith called every Monday for five months and finally got the position.

— He went to college at Cornell, studying chemical engineering, then took a job at Kraft General Foods. He got a master’s degree in business administration from Columbia, then worked at Goldman Sachs in San Francisco, advising companies including Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft.

Who is Robert Smith, the man paying off Morehouse Graduates’ loans?
FILE — Robert F. Smith, the founder and chief executive of Vista Equity Partners, in New York, Feb. 12, 2014. The billionaire said in a commencement address at Morehouse College on May 19, 2019, that his family would pay off the new graduates’ student loans. (Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times)

— Smith has a passion for music. In 2016, he was named chairman of the board of Carnegie Hall, the nation’s most prestigious concert stage. He bought and restored a storied resort, Lincoln Hills, outside Denver, where black jazz musicians like Duke Ellington once played. And he has founded programs to support music education and minority entrepreneurship in Austin, Texas, where he lives, and Chicago, where Vista has an office.

— Smith has a flamboyant side as well. He favors three-piece suits, owns one of Elton John’s old pianos and hired John Legend and Seal — and a youth orchestra — to perform at his wedding on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. He named two of his sons, Hendrix and Legend, after Jimi Hendrix and Legend. He is married to Hope Dworaczyk, an actress and former Playboy model.

— Though he shunned the spotlight for many years, he has recently embraced a more public role, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and making major charitable contributions. Cornell renamed its School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering after Smith, and he has made major gifts to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture and other cultural institutions. In January, Smith donated $1.5 million to Morehouse to fund student scholarships and a new park on campus.