Robert F. Smith, founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Vista Equity Partners (No. 1 on the BE 100s Private Equity list with $14 billion in capital under management), has been named the chairman of Carnegie Hall, the nation’s most prestigious concert stage. The election of Smith, 53, makes him the first African American to hold the post, reportedly at a time when diversity at leading cultural organizations lags, according to a recent survey of New York’s cultural institutions that found that nearly 78% of their board members were white.
“I am humbled and honored to serve as Carnegie Hall’s next chairman, working with the board, staff, and entire Carnegie Hall community to advance this iconic institution,” said Smith in a released statement. “Carnegie Hall is perfectly placed to champion not only artistic excellence, but also access and exposure to the best music in the world.” Smith went on to say that he looks forward to helping build on the Hall’s already considerable outreach efforts into communities to reach our next generation of music lovers and performers.
Largest Black Private Equity Firm
Smith, who is based in Austin, Texas, where the private equity firm he founded, Vista Equity Partners, has its headquarters, has recently taken a more public role, which includes starting the Fund II Foundation, which donates money to a variety of causes, including preserving African American history and culture, human rights, the environment, sustaining American values and music education.
What’s more, Smith made a $50 million commitment to Cornell University’s School Of Engineering, his alma mater. His gift was reciprocated with the renaming of the school to the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Cornell. The donation also is being used to fund the Robert Frederick Smith Tech Scholars Program. The program focuses on providing financial aid, particularly for minority and female students.
Second Wealthiest African American
Smith founded Vista in 2000, after leaving Goldman Sachs in 1999, which buys and sells little-known software companies such as Solera, Tibco, and Misys. Under his management, Vista established a remarkable track record by regularly returning investors 30% or more on an annualized basis. Last year, Forbes pegged his personal fortune at $2.5 billion. 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 also serves as the chairman of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights, serves on the board of overseers of Columbia Business School, is a member of the Cornell Engineering College Council, and is a trustee of the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco.