Who is the richest black man in America?

by MMC
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ROBERT F. SMITH

by Dorian Smith-Garcia, AfroTech

When we talk about wealth, we sometimes feel like Black people are systematically left out of the conversation. Due to systemic and systematic discriminatory practices, countless Black Americans are often excluded from the surest path to personal wealth: homeownership. And often, when black wealth is touted, it is limited almost exclusively to celebrities, from actors and directors like Tyler Perry to media moguls like Oprah Winfrey, and of course countless entertainers and athletes.

More importantly, when the conversation turns to billionaires, the number of black people – male or female – at the top of the list declines even further. But black wealth is not limited to people who travel in celebrity circles. There are several Black entrepreneurs who are influencing the American economy and who have also accumulated considerable nest eggs and reputations. In particular, the story of the richest black man in America is an inspiring story that shows you that our community is incredible, whether in the boardroom, behind or in front of the camera, or on the field .

The honor of being the richest black man in America goes to none other than Robert F. Smith. You’re forgiven if he’s not a household name in your social circle, because he’s a billionaire who flies under the radar. Yet Robert F. Smith is highly influential, and his venture capital firm is behind some of the most innovative startups in the world. According to Forbes, his current net worth at the time of publishing this article is valued at $8 billion, making him the 284th richest person in the world and 158th in the United States according to Forbes’ Billionaires Index. Bloomberg.

This self-made Texan billionaire is also the first African-American to sign the Giving Pledge, a public commitment by the world’s richest to dedicate most of their wealth to philanthropic causes. He is in good company with other ultra-rich individuals like Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs and Mackenzie Bezos. Smith’s rise to wealth is what many would consider the embodiment of the American dream.

Humble, service-oriented beginnings

As is often the case with many personal successes, Smith’s began humbly. He was born on December 1, 1962, to two teachers and grew up in middle-class Denver, Colorado. As a child, he observed his parents active in the community. It began as a child, with Smith recalling stories of his mother carrying him while he attended Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington to hear the “I Have a Dream” speech on the Washington Mall.

The opportunity of a lifetime

Sometimes being in the right place at the right time or being persistent is all that is needed to get someone on the right path. And that’s exactly what happened to Robert F. Smith. While attending East High School in Denver, he applied for an internship at Bell Labs. She was initially denied the program because it was aimed at students. But after a potential candidate from MIT failed to show up, Smith was allowed to participate. He worked as a tester to determine the reliability of semiconductors, sparking a curiosity for science and knowledge that would serve him well throughout his career. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University in 1985, then went on to earn an MBA with a concentration in finance and marketing from Columbia University in 1994.

The turning point: Vista Equity Partners

Smith spent several years working at Goodyear, as well as Kraft Foods as a chemical engineer before pivoting in 1994 to become a technology investment banker at Goldman Sachs. He held a position at the banking giant for six years before deciding to strike out on his own in 2000. But even by 2018, he was already making waves, earning a spot on Vanity Fair’s list of new establishments, which highlights the players who create innovative companies. products or services.

In 2000, Smith founded Vista Equity Partners, a private equity and venture capital firm. He is still the main founder, president and CEO. According to a 2021 Black Enterprise profile, Smith has consistently generated around a 30% rate of return for investors since the company’s founding. Although Vista Equity Partners is an investment company, it is also uniquely positioned as an enterprise software company. In 2019, through various acquisitions, the company was the fourth largest enterprise software company, after Oracle, Microsoft and SAP.

Notably, Vista Equity Partners has a highly diversified portfolio across various categories including entertainment, human resources and compliance, insurance, real estate, energy, security and hospitality, to name a few -ones. Some well-known past and current investments include Klarna, Marketo, VividSeats, Worktango, and Accruent.

A focus on philanthropy

Robert F. Smith is the first African American to sign the Giving Pledge. But his philanthropic efforts didn’t start with that signing in 2017. In 2016, Smith pledged $20 million to the school of chemical engineering at Cornell University, his alma mater. During that time, he donated $15 million to Columbia Business School in 2017, while helping the school raise $500 million in additional funds for Manhattanville campus relocation efforts. Additionally, Smith established the Robert F. Smith ’94 Scholarship Fund for the business school and donated $10 million to launch it.

Philanthropic efforts within the community

Smith’s philanthropic efforts were not limited to his alma maters. He also focused on initiatives that support the black community. In 2019, he donated $34 million to pay off the student debt of that year’s Morehouse College graduating class. This supported approximately 400 graduating seniors, and he made the announcement while delivering the commencement address that year. Additionally, he pledged $1 million to create the college’s Robert Frederick Smith Scholars Program and another $560,000 to develop an outdoor study space on campus.

He is also recognized for donating $20 million to the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. in 2016. At the time, this made him the largest individual donor to a museum. If you visit the museum, you’ll find the Robert Frederick Smith Family Corona Pavilion on site, as well as the Robert F. Smith Explore Your Family History Center, which works to train the next generation of museum curators. Likewise, there is a Robert F. Smith Internship Program at the museum that focuses on digital and media preservation training.

Get inspired, create your own path

Success will be different for each person, but ultimately, everyone is responsible for creating their own path. The story of Robert F. Smith is that of someone who is dedicated to education and curiosity, but also takes advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. But more importantly, he doesn’t climb the ladder behind himself after reaching a new level of success. Instead, he returns to help the next generation. In his own words, the surest path to success is to be an expert. Remember, this also means surrounding yourself with people who may be more knowledgeable about a topic than you.

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