Robert F. Smith, founder, chairman and chief executive of Vista Equity Partners (No. 1 on the BE100s Private Equity list with $14 billion in capital under management), just landed on the Forbes 400—the magazine’s annual list of the 400 richest Americans.
Smith amassed a $2.5 billion fortune mostly through business software and technology companies. He is the second-wealthiest African American to make the list after Oprah Winfrey (who is worth $3 billion), and also tops Michael Jordan’s placement on the list. Smith places at the 268th spot.
Heralded as a private equity titan and Wall Street wiz, Smith started his early life out as a computer geek and even interned at Bell Labs. Although he worked in the STEM field for some time after earning a degree in chemical engineering from Cornell, the financial world beckoned. He attended Columbia Business School and ended up at Goldman Sachs. He served as the co-chief of the investment banking division.
After Goldman Sachs’ IPO, Smith founded Vista Equity Partners in 2000, investing in technology companies. In 2013, Black Enterprise named the firm BE100s Financial Services Company of the Year, and Smith one of the Most Powerful Blacks on Wall Street. Smith made a shrewd move in acquiring Sunquest Information Systems Inc. for a relative bargain price of $327 million—$200 million in equity and $127 million in debt.
Sunquest was experiencing some financial difficulty prior to the acquisition. Vista managed to increase Sunquest’s revenue shares in just two years. Smith has attributed his firm’s success to proprietary operating principles rather than “guessing” or “stock picking.”
Vista’s portfolio includes not only tech companies but those in the property and casualty insurance and advertising industries. Vista Equity Partners is valued at $4.3 billion and has $14 billion in cumulative capital commitments. The company recently announced its plans to acquire Solera Holdings Inc. for $6.5 billion. Vista has presence nationwide with offices in San Francisco, Austin, and Chicago.