After graduating from Cornell University, Smith worked as a chemical engineer at Goodyear Tire and Rubber and later at Kraft General Foods. In 1994, Smith earned his MBA from Columbia Business School and then went on to work for Goldman Sachs in New York City and San Francisco, CA.
In 2000, Smith founded Vista Equity Partners (Vista). Vista, of which Smith is the Founder, Chairman and CEO, is a leading global investment firm that exclusively invests in enterprise software, data and technology-enabled businesses. In order to provide students with similar eye-opening experiences as Smith had at Bell Labs, Smith pushed to create the Vista Frontier Fellows Program. This internship program develops career opportunities for undergraduate students from underrepresented communities in private equity.
In addition to creating internships and scholarship programs, Smith supports a variety of other career-, education- and equity-focused organizations, institutions and initiatives. One of his most notable efforts was his commitment to pay off the student loan debt of the 2019 Morehouse College graduating class, along with the student debt incurred by guardians on their behalf. In his commencement address, Smith challenged the recent graduates, along with other alumni and benefactors, to help future classes in a similar way.
Inspired by the positive impact his donation had on the Morehouse graduates, Smith worked with organizational leaders and education experts to create Student Freedom Initiative (SFI), of which he is the Chairman. SFI is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing eligible STEM students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) with academic, financial and professional support.
Additionally, Smith leads Southern Communities Initiative (SCI) alongside Dan Schulman (CEO of PayPal) and Rich Lesser (Global Chair of Boston Consulting Group). SCI is a catalytic consortium dedicated to advancing racial equity in six Southern U.S. communities where more than half of the Black population resides. To promote equity, SCI partners with community leaders, companies and organizations to make progress in six key areas, which include business, banking, internships, digital access, legislation and investments.
Smith’s business prowess and philanthropic efforts have earned him a number of honors and awards throughout his career. In 2023, he was honored with the Founder’s Award from Foster Love, George H.W. Bush Points of Light Award and Legal Defense Fund’s National Equal Justice Award. In 2022, Smith received theGrio’s Philanthropy Icon Award and the National Arts Award from American for the Arts. Additionally, his history as an advocate for underrepresented communities and his efforts to challenge and change corporate culture contributed to him being named one of the TIME100’s Most Influential People of 2020.
In recognition of his “emphasis on education and support for current and future generations,” Smith received the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy in 2019. Smith has also been recognized with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Chair’s Award, the UNCF’s President’s Award, the Ripple of Hope Award from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Robert Toigo Foundation.
Smith also offers his leadership as the Chairman of Carnegie Hall, the NAF Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors, a member of the Cornell Engineering College Council and a member of the Council for Inclusive Capitalism.
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