June’s Brand Champion is Robert F. Smith.
This month’s Brand Champion is Robert F. Smith: a man with an amazing personal and professional story that truly embodies what it means to be a Brand Champion. Brand Champions represent more than a singular company; they have a burning passion to be the best and drive themselves, and their companies, to own their space. They find ways to inspire the people around them, both within their organization and the overarching community, and they constantly push for improvement and betterment at every opportunity. Robert and his company Vista Equity Partners truly set a stunning example of what can be accomplished when a real Brand Champion is behind the scenes.
Born a ninth-generation Coloradan, Mr. Smith has been fighting his way to the top since he was a child, even going so far as to apply for a college-level engineering internship when he was still in high school. He earned a degree in chemical engineering from Cornell and an MBA from Columbia before setting his sights on Wall Street, taking a job at Goldman Sachs right out of college. He went on to cohead enterprise and storage-investment banking there, advising on $50 billion in deals from 1994 to 2000. He was the first person at Goldman Sachs to focus solely on technology mergers and acquisitions, first in New York and then in Silicon Valley, where he worked with companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Texas Instruments, eBay and Yahoo.
Smith broke away from Goldman Sachs in 2000 to form Vista Equity Partners, a private equity and venture capital firm of which he is the principal founder, chairman and chief executive. While most of his peers and co-workers warned him about the risks, Robert struck out on his own with nothing but experience and a vision for what he wanted to achieve. Since its inception Vista has generated outlandishly impressive outcomes, regularly producing 30% or more return for investors.
With an investment model that has been described as “practically contrarian” by Business Insider, Smith partners with tech companies that are pointedly unglamorous and undervalued. While controversial, this strategy has netted Vista massive gains and in 2017, Vista Equity Partners was reported to have $30 billion under management.
Vista’s hiring processes are similarly unconventional. Using a personality test to determine applicants’ technical and social skills, as well as their interest in the arts and humanities, Smith has accrued a strikingly diverse and multifaceted workforce that includes everyone from former pizza-delivery drivers to roofers. Hiring these employees, who in Robert’s eyes, are more dedicated and more adaptable than traditional candidates, also provides a social good, promoting class mobility and diversity.
From that early internship at Bell Labs to Vista Equity and his massive philanthropic endeavors, Robert Smith has carved out a largely unrivalled career, marked by some of the most impressive statistics and figures you’re likely to find on a résumé. In 2016 he was named as Private Equity International’s 2016 Game Changer of the Year and, in a 2018 cover story, Forbes declared Smith the wealthiest African-American in the world, surpassing Oprah Winfrey. He is the board chairman of Carnegie Hall, and the first ever African-American to sign “The Giving Pledge” an agreement that aims to encourage the wealthiest people of the world to give at least half of their net worth to philanthropy.
For pushing his company to own their space, for his role as a thought-leader, and for inspiring his community and, in turn, the world, Brand Iron recognizes Robert F. Smith as June’s Brand Champion. His passion and enthusiasm for his trade, his boundless success, and his dedication to spreading that success throughout his community truly make him a role model for all.
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