Robert Fredrick Smith has maintained a rather ‘quiet’ life away from the media limelight. In fact, when Forbes requested to interview him, he declined.
Despite his ‘hidden’ nature, news about his success and philanthropic activities is making headlines across the world.
Just last year, Forbes ranked Smith no. 268th richest person in America. The African-American is trailing only Oprah Winfrey with a net worth of $2.5 billion. The 54-year old venture capitalist is ahead of Jim Breyer, the early Facebook investor, who is worth about $2.4 billion.
Some three years ago, the founders of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture were seeking donors, and people directed them to Robert F. Smith.
“We kept wondering, ‘Who is this Robert Smith?’ ” Adrienne Brooks the director of development for the museum told The Washington Post. They had to meet Smith. He contributed to the museum a $20 million gift, making him the second-biggest private donor.
Uplifting rescued Chibok girls
His philanthropic activities have benefited a number of people in America, and now Africa- Nigeria to be specific.
Smith has offered to sponsor the education of 21 Chibok girls recently released by the outlawed Boko Haram militia.
Speaking on the welfare of the Chibok girls, Nigeria’s presidential spokesman Garba Shehu, was quoted as saying that Smith is “currently sponsoring the education of 24 girls from Chibok, among them the first set of escapees from Boko Haram at the American University of Nigeria (AUN), Yola.” Shehu added: he has “offered to pay for the education of the 21 released girls through negotiations and is offering to take responsibility for all the others who will hopefully be eventually set free.”
AUN is one of the prestigious schools for children of Nigeria’s elite. Thanks to Smith, the Chibok girls will be privileged to study here.
In April 2014, over 200 girls were abducted from a Chibok school in the northeast of Nigeria. Over the years, some girls have managed to escape and find their way back, but quite a number remain incarcerated. After negotiations with the terrorist group, 21 girls were released in October.
At AUN, the girls will acquire education as they are being reintegrated into the society after spending more than two years in captivity.
In addition to the above, back in America, Smith donated $50 million to Cornell University’s School of Engineering, his alma mater. Following the donation and in his honor, the school was renamed the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
Persistence pays off
Today, Smith is Vista’s chairman and chief executive and invests in “software and technology-enabled businesses.” Vista’s portfolio includes 35 companies with $26 billion in assets.
In an interview with The Washington Post, the avid investor disclosed how he got into Silicon Valley and Wall Street.
In high school, Smith’s got interested in computers and spent summers and Christmas breaks figuring out how computers worked — or didn’t.
“I got hooked on technology,” Smith said. “The excitement of figuring a complex problem out creates a eureka moment. It’s one of the best moments in life,” he told the news outlet.
It is during this time that he reached out to search for a summer internship at Bell Labs but was declined. Instead of losing hope, he kept calling and leaving messages to the HR director for about five months. One day, an opportunity presented itself and he got the position after an intern failed to show up. He never looked back. Later on, he joined Goldman Sachs until 2000 when he left to start Vista Equity Partners.
As he continues to invest in businesses, he also supports philanthropic initiatives through the Fund II Foundation, of which he is the founding president. Through this platform, he has supported nonprofit groups that focus on African American culture, human rights, music education and the environment.
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