As the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners (Vista), Robert F. Smith and his company have made major headlines. In 2017, he was named by Forbes as one of the 100 Greatest Living Business Minds. In 2018, he was ranked by Forbes as the 163rd richest person in America, no. 480 on its list of the world’s billionaires, and declared in one of its cover stories the wealthiest African American, reportedly surpassing Oprah Winfrey, with a net worth of US$6.7 billion at the time. He was also recognized as one of the 50 people “who defined 2019” on The Bloomberg 50 List.
Smith was named “Executive of the Year” on the PitchBook Private Equity Awards in recognition for his $34 million pledge to wipe out the student debt of Morehouse College’s entire 2019 graduating class. Highlighting Vista’s success as “Dealmaker of the Year”, PitchBook’s Adam Lewis wrote,“… 2019 was especially notable for Austin-based Vista, as it completed a series of huge deals, raised its largest fund to date and — in a first — took a portfolio company Four Vista portfolio company CEOs were named to The Software Report’s annual list of Top 50 SaaS CEOs for 2019. Reggie Aggarwal of Cvent was named the number one SaaS CEO for the second consecutive year, while Colin Day of iCIMS placed third and Sejal Pietrzak of DealerSocket placed seventh. Sunny Gupta, the CEO of Apptio, also placed 18th on the list.
Cultivating a multibillion-dollar business
Vista exclusively invests in enterprise software, data, and technology-enabled organizations across private equity, credit, public equity, and permanent capital strategies. Smith directs Vista’s investment strategy and decisions, firm governance and investor relations with offices in Austin, Chicago, New York City, Oakland and San Francisco.
As a value-added investor with a long-term perspective,Vista contributes professional expertise and multi-level support towards companies to realize their full potential. Vista’s investment approach is anchored by a sizable long-term capital base, experience in structuring technology-oriented transactions, and proven management techniques that yield flexibility and opportunity.
Vista currently manages equity capital commitments of more than $52 billion and oversees a portfolio of more than 60 software companies that employ more than 70,000 people worldwide. Since founding the firm in 2000, Smith has overseen more than 415 completed transactions by the firm representing more than $130 billion in transaction value.
“In September,Vista closed its seventh flagship fund on $16 billion in outside commitments, easily exceeding a predecessor, Vista Equity Partners Fund VI, that pulled in some $11 billion in 2017,” Lewis expounded in Forbes. “That huge step up in fundraising was no doubt aided by the latter vehicle and its predecessor finishing in the top quartile of its respective benchmark, according to PitchBook data. Also in September,Vista completed its first IPO of a company it majority owns, taking authentication software company Ping Identity public.”
Expanding to Asia
Last November,Vista Consulting Group (VCG, the affiliated consulting arm of the firm) announced the opening of its Singapore office. The new office serves as the Asia headquarters for VCG, expanding Vista’s presence and providing additional operational support for Vista companies in the region and their almost 14,000 employees.
The Singapore office, located in the Centennial Tower, is indicative of the firm’s continued strong commitment to Asia. Currently, more than 20 Vista portfolio companies have offices in the region, with 13 in Singapore. As part of the announcement,Vista portfolio company Apptio, a provider of software that fuels digital transformation, named Singapore as its Asia headquarters as it focuses on driving sales and other opportunities throughout the region. Another Vista portfolio company, RDC, announced earlier last year that it also was naming Singapore its Asia headquarters.
“We are seeing immense growth of the business-to-business market in Asia, underpinned by an acceleration of investment in technology infrastructure and enterprise software,” said Smith. “This transformation continues to create a significant commercial opportunity across our portfolio. An on-the-ground presence in Singapore builds upon our extensive work in India and other parts of the region and will improve our ability to support the growth of our companies by further helping our network engage with customers, partners, entrepreneurs and technology talent to best position them and Vista for continued success.”
Paying it forward
Apparently, Smith’s path to success was transformed tremendously by a speaker he met as a young man. “In 1994, Smith was graduating from Columbia Business School and thinking about pursuing a career in marketing. An engineer by training, Smith had already worked on products at companies like Kraft General Foods and Goodyear Tire & Rubber. The last thing Smith wanted was to go to Wall Street and become a financier,” noted Nathan Vardi in a Forbes article.
“The speaker at Smith’s Columbia graduation was John Utendahl, who founded a pioneering black-run investment bank,” Vardi explained. “Utendahl noticed the young African-American man sitting among the other Columbia Business School graduates. Utendahl sought Smith out after the ceremony and invited him to lunch. Over tuna sandwiches, Utendahl convinced Smith to ditch his other plans and give investment banking a try, helping Smith land a job at Goldman Sachs.” Utendahl, who is currently a vice chairman at Bank of America, actively mentored and inspired Smith to move forward and reach back.
Funding the future
In 2014, Smith established the Fund II Foundation for the purpose of making grants to public charities. To date, Fund II Foundation has made grants worth more than $240 million to a broad range of charities, including The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, The United Negro College Fund, NPower, The Opportunity Network and The National Park Foundation.
For example, Smith made an anonymous donation to help the National Park Service sustain the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s homes. According to thekingcenter.org, when Smith first toured the home, he was struck by the dynamic of envisioning Dr. King’s family at the dining room table engaging in topics that are relevant to us now.
The Foundation also provided a grant to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to engage African American youth in the preservation trade at legendary musician and Civil Rights activist Nina Simone’s North Carolina birthplace and at African American historic sites nationwide. The National Trust has been leading a campaign to rehab and repurpose Simone’s home since naming it a National Treasure in 2018 as part of its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. Learn more at savingplaces.org.
Fund II Foundation selected NAF academies in seven school districts in Florida, Michigan, Texas, Washington, DC, and Wisconsin to receive the African American Youth STEM Initiative Grant awarding up to $225,000 over three years to support efforts to prepare more diverse students for successful futures in STEM careers, per naf.org. And the Foundation awarded International House a grant of $500,000 to support programming, cultural initiatives, scholarships and outreach in African and African American communities.
More about Robert F. Smith
Born in Colorado to two parents with PhDs, Smith trained as an engineer at Cornell University, earning his BS in Chemical Engineering. Following his MBA from Columbia Business School with honors, Smith worked at Kraft General Foods, where he earned two United States and two European patents.
In 1994, he joined Goldman Sachs in tech investment banking, first in New York and then in Silicon Valley. As Co-Head of Enterprise Systems and Storage, he executed and advised on over $50 billion in merger and acquisition activity with companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Texas Instruments, eBay, and Yahoo. He was the first person in San Francisco at Goldman to focus solely on tech mergers and acquisitions.
Smith’s business achievements and global philanthropic works have received recognition from numerous entities. This includes the Morehouse Candle Award in Business and Philanthropy, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Chair’s Award, the Reginald F. Lewis Achievement Award, the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Robert Toigo Foundation, the Ripple of Hope Award from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, the Award of Excellence from the National Association of Investment Companies, the Pierre Toussaint Award from the Archdiocese of New York, the Columbia University BBSA Distinguished Alumni Award, and the Ron Brown Scholar Program American Journey Award.
Smith is the founding director and President of the Fund II Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the African American experience, safeguarding human rights, providing music education, preserving the environment while promoting the benefits of the outdoors, and sustaining critical American values. In January 2016, Cornell University honored Smith’s leadership by naming the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
Smith is the Chairman of Carnegie Hall and the Chair of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. He serves on the Board of Overseers of Columbia Business School, as a Member of the Cornell Engineering College Council, and a Trustee of the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco.
In 2017, Smith signed on to The Giving Pledge, the only African American to do so. His gift of $20 million was the largest by an individual donor to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, among many other philanthropic activities.
About Vista Equity Partners
Vista Equity Partners (Vista) is a leading investment firm with offices in Austin, Chicago, New York City, Oakland, and San Francisco and more than $52 billion in cumulative capital commitments. Vista exclusively invests in enterprise software, data, and technology- enabled organizations across private equity, credit, public equity, and permanent capital strategies. As a value-added investor with a long-term perspective,Vista contributes professional expertise and multi-level support towards companies to realize their full potential. Vista’s investment approach is anchored by a sizable long-term capital base, experience in structuring technology-oriented transactions, and proven management techniques that yield flexibility and opportunity.
About Fund II Foundation
Fund II Foundation was established in 2014 for the purpose of making grants to section 501(c)(3) public charities in five areas: 1) Preserving the cultural richness of the African-American experience for future generations; 2) Safeguarding human dignity by giving voice to the voiceless and promoting human rights; 3) Conserving the environment, promoting outdoor education, and providing the benefits of the great outdoors to people of all ages and backgrounds; 4) Affording music education, particularly in primary and secondary schools, to nourish both talent and the soul; and 5) sustaining the American values of entrepreneurship, empowerment, innovation and security.
The Foundation is the result of an agreement made at the inception of Vista Equity Fund II.Vista Equity Fund II was Vista Equity Partners’ original fund, and Point Investments was the original limited partner. As a condition of its participation in Vista Equity Fund II, Point required that assets be held and managed to satisfy liabilities that might be owed to Point at the winding up of Vista Equity Fund II. The parties also agreed that, if at the time of the Fund’s conclusion assets remained after satisfying liabilities, those assets would be given to charity. Vista Equity Fund II came to an end in 2014, and the assets that remained at that time enabled the creation of Fund II Foundation.