Paying It Forward at Morehouse College

For commencement speakers worldwide, it will be difficult to top this.

Then their commencement speaker went off-script with an extraordinary pledge: the newly minted alumni of the historically black college in Atlanta would go forth into the world student debt-free.

Robert F. Smith, the billionaire investor who founded Vista Equity Partners and became the richest black man in America, told the crowd that he and his family would pay off the entire graduating class’s student debt, freeing them to begin their next chapter, whether it was a master’s program, a position with Teach for America or an internship at Goldman Sachs, without loan payments to worry about.

Morehouse Graduates Celebrate Pledge to Pay Off Student Loans, The New York Times

This gift will do more for students than naming buildings.

Who is Robert F. Smith?

After graduating from Cornell, Smith worked as a chemical engineer and later attended Columbia Business School, earning a Master of Business Administration in 1994. He then worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs until 2000, when he founded his own private equity firm — Vista Equity Partners — which currently has over $46 billion in assets.

Billionaire Alumnus Robert F. Smith ’85 To Pay Off Morehouse Graduates’ Student Loans, The Cornell Daily Sun

And what about his firm, Vista Equity Partners?

The private-equity firm Vista Equity Partners owns a sprawling portfolio of technology companies, from Automated Insights to the Xactly Corporation. Together, they provide software to just about every major industry. Since its founding, in 2000, Vista has engineered a nearly unbroken string of profitable acquisitions, a run of success that has made Robert Smith—a co-founder, and its chairman and CEO—a very wealthy man. At $4.4 billion, his estimated net worth makes him the richest African American, just ahead of Oprah Winfrey.

Smith is not the household name that Oprah is, and he seems to prefer it that way. He rarely gives interviews—the recent cover story of Forbes’s “World’s Richest People” issue was an exception—and he guards Vista’s secrets closely.

An SAT for CEOs, The Atlantic

Graves Hall at Morehouse College.
Photo by Thomson200 on Wikipedia

Post by Marcelino Pantoja