Robert F. Smith

Founding Director and President of Fund II Foundation

Engineer, dealmaker, entrepreneur and philanthropist Robert F. Smith is passionate about helping students realize their full potential. Under Smith’s leadership as founding director and President, Fund II Foundation has developed programs like internXL, in addition to other initiatives designed to create onramps for students and young professionals from underserved communities and help them develop their skills and work experience. Smith helped create this program to build an ecosystem that allows students and young professionals to develop their skills and work experience.

Smith’s belief in the importance of equitable internship opportunities stems from his personal experience. While he was still in high school, Smith earned a coveted internship spot at Bell Labs. He continued working at Bell Labs during his college years at Cornell University and used the money he earned to help pay for his tuition. Smith credits his experience with Bell Labs and his time at Cornell University with providing him with opportunities to learn and grow in ways that would not otherwise have been available. It also inspired him to continuously learn and find solutions to problems. Between 2016 and 2022, Smith personally donated a collective $45 million to Cornell University’s College of Engineering to fund educational opportunities for students. Specifically, some of his donations were used to establish scholarships for Black and female students pursuing tech. In addition, the donations established three funds: the Robert F. Smith Undergraduate Scholarship Fund, Robert F. Smith Graduate Fellowship Fund and Robert F. Smith Student Success Fund.

Smith’s Education and Career

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.

Smith’s Philanthropy

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 Achievements and Board Memberships

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.

Learn More About Robert F. Smith

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