Black History Month Spotlight: Robert Frederick Smith

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This month our country celebrates Black History Month. Rather than praise the same leaders and trailblazers we have all heard of and know well, I want to lift up my own minority heros. My first hero for Black History Month is Mr. Robert F. Smith.

Who is this person?

Robert Frederick Smith is an entrepreneur, business leader, investor, and is chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, an investment firm with over $26 billion in assets as of September 2016.  Mr. Smith was ranked by Forbes in 2016 as the 274th richest person in America, the second wealthiest African American on the list after Oprah Winfrey.  Robert was the second largest donor for the recently opened African American Museum of History in Washington D.C.

Why does he inspire me?

Mr. Smith started from humble middle-class beginnings in a neighborhood in Denver, Colorado.  Although he was the son of two parents with PhDs, both parents chose careers as school teachers which meant that they committed their God-given gifts to teaching young people at the expense of more lucrative professional pursuits.  Despite the challenges of classism and inherent racism, Mr. Smith was undeterred in his relentless pursuit of his education (Chemical Engineering at Cornell and MBA from Columbia) and his mastering of the art of finance and deal making with Goldman Sachs.  He went were few have gone and learned the ways and means of capitalists.  Although he has achieved enormous wealth, I sense that he follows the biblical adage that, “to whom much is given, much is required.”

What can we all learn from this man?

Robert F. Smith has shown through his success that the creative and innovative intersection of technology and well-thought out business models can still result in the creation of significant wealth and is often the basis for the development of sustainable economic ecosystems that can benefit all sectors of our society.  All young and emerging entrepreneurs should consider treading the path that Mr. Smith has engineered.