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Robert F. Smith

Investment chief executive Robert Frederick Smith was born on December 1, 1962 in Denver, Colorado to educators Dr. William Robert Smith and Dr. Sylvia Myrna Smith. Smith attended Carson Elementary School and Gove Jr. High School in Denver. He then graduated from Denver East High School in 1981 and Cornell University with his B.S. degree in chemical engineering in 1986. He worked as an engineer for Air Products and Chemicals, The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and Kraft General Foods. Smith was the principal inventor on two United States and two European patents. Smith received his M.B.A. degree with a concentration in finance and marketing from Columbia Business School in 1994.

After business school, Smith joined Goldman Sachs in mergers and acquisitions department in New York and then moved to San Francisco in 1997 to initiate Goldman Sachs’ merger and acquisition efforts there. As co-head of Enterprise Systems and Storage, he oversaw $50 billion in merger and acquisition activity with the following companies: Apple, Microsoft, Texas Instruments, eBay and Yahoo. Smith left Goldman Sachs in 2000 to found his own company, Vista Equity Partners LLC. In 2015, the HEC-Dow Jones Private Equity Performance Ranking named Vista Equity Partners LLC as one of the industry’s top performers.

Smith was a member of the Leadership Circle for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and an active supporter of the organization Children’s Opportunities for Music Participation. He was also Chairman of the Board of the Robert F. Kennedy Center, a member of the Cornell Engineering College Council, a trustee at Columbia Business School, trustee of the Boys and Girls Clubs in San Francisco, and a board member of Carnegie Hall. Smith also received honorary doctorates from American University and Huston-Tillotson University.

Smith received the Reginald F. Lewis Achievement Award, the Ripple of Hope Award from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Robert Toigo Foundation, the Award of Excellence from the National Association of Investment Companies, and the Columbia University BBSA Distinguished Alumni Award. Smith, a well known philanthropist, donated $30 million to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and $50 million to Cornell University.

Smith and his wife, Hope Dworaczyk, have one son, Hendrix Robert Smith, and he has three children, Zoe Suzanne Smith, Eliana Frederick Smith and Maximos Robert Smith, from a prior marriage.

Robert F. Smith was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 10, 2015.

Accession Number

A2015.002

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/10/2015

Last Name

Smith

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Frederick

Schools

Carson Elementary School

Gove Junior High School

East High School

Cornell University

Columbia University

First Name

Robert

Birth City, State, Country

Denver

HM ID

SMI32

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Colorado

Favorite Vacation Destination

Home in Colorado

Favorite Quote

You Are Enough As You Are, Discover The Joys Of Figuring Things Out, Love Is What Matters

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Texas

Interview Description
Birth Date

12/1/1962

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Austin

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Gumbo, Peach Cobbler, Mexican Food

Short Description

Investment chief executive Robert F. Smith (1962 - ) was the founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Vista Equity Partners LLC, and founder of Project Realize.

Employment

Air Products and Chemicals

The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company

Kraft General Foods

Goldman, Sachs & Co.

Vista Equity Partners, LLC

Fund II Foundation

Project Realize

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Robert F. Smith's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Robert F. Smith lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Robert F. Smith talks about his paternal family ancestry

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Robert F. Smith talks about his father's childhood in Lincoln Hills, Colorado, the first resort community founded by African Americans in 1922

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Robert F. Smith describes his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Robert F. Smith talks about his maternal family ancestry

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Robert F. Smith describes his parents' belief in uplifting the African American community through education

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Robert F. Smith describes his mother's upbringing in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Robert F. Smith talks about his father's experience growing up in Denver, Colorado

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Robert F. Smith describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Robert F. Smith talks briefly about his older brother

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Robert F. Smith describes a number of his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Robert F. Smith remembers becoming aware of racism

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Robert F. Smith describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his neighborhood in East Denver, Colorado, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Robert F. Smith talks about his and his brother's golf ball business

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Robert F. Smith remembers the Civil Rights Movement and murder of his uncle

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Robert F. Smith describes the sights, sounds and smells of his neighborhood in East Denver, Colorado pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Robert F. Smith describes his personality as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Robert F. Smith explains what influenced his interest in business and talks about his childhood entrepreneurial ventures

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Robert F. Smith describes his older brother

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Robert F. Smith explains how he got an internship at Bell Labs Development Company

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Robert F. Smith describes his experience as an intern at Bell Labs

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Robert F. Smith explains how his time at Bell Labs inspired the idea of having a software and technology-based business of his own

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Robert Smith describes his experience at Harrington Kindergarten and being bused to Carson Elementary School

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Robert F. Smith describes his experience at Carson Elementary School, Columbine Elementary School, and University Park Elementary School

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Robert F. Smith talks about his experience at Gove Junior High School in Denver, Colorado

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Robert F. Smith talks about the student body demographic and racist microaggressions in middle and high school

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Robert F. Smith describes his childhood summers

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Robert F. Smith talks about socioeconomic inequalities between Denver's black and white demographics

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Robert F. Smith talks about the Minority Introduction to Engineering program for high school students at Cornell University

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Robert F. Smith talks about the college application process and choosing Cornell University in Ithaca, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Robert F. Smith talks about the Committee on Special education Projects [COSEP] pre-freshman program at Cornell University

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Robert F. Smith talks about pledging Alpha Phi Alpha

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Robert F. Smith talks about black Greek life at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Robert F. Smith talks about his experience in the engineering school at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Robert F. Smith talks about winning the Procter and Gamble Technical Excellence Award and interning at the Rocky Flats plant

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Robert F. Smith describes the chemical engineering curriculum at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Robert F. Smith talks about graduating from Cornell University and working for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Robert F. Smith describes his experience in the Squadron program at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Robert F. Smith talks about his tenure at Air Products and Chemicals Inc. developing food packaging and preservation products

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Robert F. Smith talks about mechanical engineering, product development, and his patented inventions at Goodyear and Kraft General Foods

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Robert F. Smith talks about developing microprocessor controlled coffee brewing equipment

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Robert F. Smith talks about his tenure at Kraft General Foods

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Robert F. Smith talks briefly about the death of his father

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Robert F. Smith talks about getting into the J.D. MBA program at Columbia University in New York, New York

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Robert F. Smith describes meeting John Utendahl and transitioning into investment banking

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Robert F. Smith explains why he went to Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Robert F. Smith talks about developing the "real-life training program" for the mergers and acquisitions department at Goldman Sachs

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Robert F. Smith talks briefly about working at Kraft General Foods between semesters of graduate school

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Robert F. Smith lists figures in the mergers and acquisitions department at Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. in the 1990s

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Robert F. Smith describes working on hostile takeover deals

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Robert F. Smith describes the role emotional intelligence plays in the investment banking

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Robert F. Smith lists the African American partners at Goldman Sachs in the 1990s

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Robert F. Smith talks about his relationship with Gene Sykes and developing an M&A department in technology for Goldman Sachs in San Francisco, California

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Robert F. Smith talks about creating the first Goldman Sachs mergers and acquisitions department in technology in San Francisco, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Robert F. Smith talks briefly about research analyst and HistoryMaker Charles Phillips

Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Robert F. Smith talks about creating the first Goldman Sachs mergers and acquisitions department in technology in San Francisco, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Robert F. Smith describes the competitive environment at Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Robert F. Smith describes his introduction to Universal Computer Systems

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Robert F. Smith describes advising Universal Computer Systems and founding his investment firm, Vista Equity Partners, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Robert F. Smith describes advising Universal Computer Systems and founding his investment firm, Vista Equity Partners, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Robert F. Smith explains how Vista Equity Partners survived the market crash

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Robert F. Smith talks about profit potential in the enterprise software market

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Robert F. Smith describes the Vista Equity Partners client selection process

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Robert F. Smith talks about racial and ethnic diversity in investment banking and at Vista Equity Partners

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Robert F. Smith talks about Vista Equity's first fund

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Robert F. Smith describes the pay structure for partners at Vista Equity Partners

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Robert F. Smith describes the Vista Equity Partners business model

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Robert F. Smith revisits mistakes he made in Vista Equity's first decade

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Robert F. Smith talks about aggregating Ventyx and MDSI to build the world's largest independent utility software company

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Robert F. Smith talks about Vista Equity's investment in Aspect Call Center Software Solutions

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Robert F. Smith talks about the use of learning management systems in hiring processes, and investing in learning management systems software

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Robert F. Smith talks about his client Sunquest, an enterprise software company in hospital lab systems

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Robert F. Smith talks about the 2012 Misys and Turaz merger

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Robert F. Smith talks about the protection of Vista Equity's intellectual property and standard operating procedures

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Robert F. Smith talks about innovation in the enterprise software market

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Robert F. Smith explains surviving the economic crashes in 2008 and 2009

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Robert F. Smith talks about competitors in the enterprise software market

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Robert F. Smith describes his plan to establish permanent capital for Vista Equity Partners to grow the company

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Robert F. Smith talks about using data processing aptitude testing to evaluate potential hires

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Robert F. Smith talks about raising money from state pension funds for Vista Equity Partners

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Robert F. Smith talks about purchasing and expanding the Lincoln Hills resort community in Colorado, and community programming at the property, pt.1

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Robert F. Smith describes the history of the Lincoln Hills African-American resort community in Colorado

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Robert F. Smith talks about purchasing and expanding the Lincoln Hills resort community in Colorado, and community programming at the property, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Robert F. Smith talks about his family

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Robert F. Smith explains free-market philanthropy and talks about his free consulting business, Project Realize

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Robert F. Smith talks about race relations in contemporary American society

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Robert F. Smith considers his legacy

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Robert F. Smith considers the legacy of his generation and contemporary human rights issues

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Robert F. Smith considers his hopes and concerns for the future African American demographic

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$7

DAStory

14$7

DATitle
Robert F. Smith describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his neighborhood in East Denver, Colorado, pt. 1
Robert F. Smith talks about aggregating Ventyx and MDSI to build the world's largest independent utility software company
Transcript
So can you, can we go back to that, that neighborhood? Now, you lived there how long?$$Until I pretty much graduated from high school [Denver East High School, Denver, Colorado].$$Okay, okay, so you--so can you describe the neighborhood? You've talked about some--(simultaneous)--$$Sure.$$--sights, but can you--I'd like to know even the sights--I wanna know about the neighborhood, but I also want to know the sights, smells and sounds that remind you of growing up?$$Sure, I lived, we lived on the corner of 26th and Cook [Denver, Colorado]. And it was across the street from City Park Golf Course, which is why all my friends play golf, I think (laughter). And that's why I started one of my first businesses collecting and selling golf balls because they'd hit them into our yard, and I'd polish them up and go back out there and resell them back to the golfers, and, you know, make a good, good living that way as a young boy. I lived across the street from Gary Rose [ph.] who was one of our, you know, state representatives, and next door to George Brown [ph.] who was the first black Lieutenant Governor in the State of Colorado. We had a Pullman porter who lived in our neighborhood, you know, Mr. Moore [ph.]. Then, Miss Buzby [ph.] lived down the street from us. I'm not quite sure what she did now that I'm thinking about it. But then, we had a couple who were dentists, and another family who was a contractor. My best friend, his dad was a, you know, a general contractor. We had a real estate agent, you know, a guy ran, owned his own real estate company, Dave Smith who was a big real estate company in the area. So it was, it was a true middle-class, American neighborhood that was, you know, 98 percent African American growing up. Our neighborhood was filled with lots of kids, like all neighborhoods were then. And, you know, you kinda had little block, block-by-block type loyalties, but as you grew up and you had the ability to go and meet more kids, you figured out they're pretty much like you and then you have races in the streets which was always a lot of fun. And you'd get together, and you'd have a football game over on the golf course in the evening, and, you know, it'd be twelve on twelve as substitutes. I mean it was that many kids (laughter) running around, which was actually pretty neat. And then the sights and sounds. Growing up in Colorado, it was always, you know, hey, it's a beautiful state, and you get, you know, decent and, you know, variable weather. So, you know, sometimes in October you'd have a two-foot snowstorm or in May, you'd have a three-foot snowstorm. Or sometimes in December, the sky would be blue, and it's 78 degrees. And that was one of the joys of being here. One thing about Colorado, it's always had blue skies. You get the snow, but then it'd clear up. And so it was a very happy, feeling place. You got a lot of sunshine. You had an opportunity to go out and, you know, we would ride our bikes during the summers all day. You know, you'd get on the bike. You would leave in the morning, and pack a sandwich, and, you know, and, and go. And, you know, I'm surprised our parents let us do that. I don't know if they knew we were doing that. We'd just get on bikes and just ride, and, you know, just you had to be home before the street lights were on, right. We had neighborhood stores, and I remember there was one store, he used to crack me up, Mr. McGee [ph.]. He'd make the best hamburgers, but he'd go down and he'd sell golf balls and earn some money and you'd go down to his store, and his hamburgers were like $0.50 cents. And you'd go in and say, "All right, Mr. McGee, I'd like a hamburger.". And, you know, you sit down at the counter, and then he'd give you--he'd say, it's $0.50 cents. You give him $0.50 cents, and he'd give you a dime. Then you had to go to the store, which was down the block, and go get a quarter pound of meat (laughter) hamburger. And then you'd bring it back to him. (Laughter) And then he'd make a hamburger for you, right. (Laughter) And, and you'd sit there and watch him cook that up. So that was actually a lot of, that was kind of funny. It's one of the stories I tell my kids. That was a guy who really understood "just-in-time inventory" management systems for sure.$I wanna talk about some of your most significant deals.$$Okay, I think one of the most significant, Aspect's [Aspect Software, Inc.] one, is an interesting one. Ventyx [Energy, LLC] is an interesting one. There's a bunch of 'em, but I, you know, in terms of--you know, one of the reasons I like Ventyx, it tells a very interesting narrative. Ventyx, we ultimately sold to ABB [Group], made about five times our money on it.$$So, you bought it at what?$$No, so that's why it's interesting.$$Okay.$$So the first piece of that was a company called MBSI which was a publicly-traded company in Toronto [Canada] on the Toronto Stock Exchange, actually based in Western Canada. And it basically was software that's used in the utility systems business. So you know when the power pole goes down, somebody has to say, well, what guys on what trucks have the right materials to go get to that power pole and fix it. Okay, so it's a services type business, but software. We bought that company, okay, took it private for $46 million. And then there was a publicly-traded company in the U.S. called (NDES?). (NDES?) actually had a different sort (unclear) when it's long, you call it, you know, long cycle and short cycle. Short cycle is stuff that happens in a day. Long cycle is, you know, the, you know, your cable guy, you know, you book it three days later. He's gonna come between the hours of noon and four o'clock. I'm not responsible if he came at five o'clocl, but, you know (laughter), that sort of stuff. But also, in terms of maintenance and for utilities, okay. So maintenance and so if you have a utility, you got generating assets. You now have to perform maintenance on 'em. Sometimes you gotta change out the pump or the capacitor or whatever. Well, how do you actually have those--there has to be systems. You gotta lock this out first, turn this left, do this before you do this, and then you have to go backward in order to get it back up and running. Well, that works, you know, any time you're doing maintenance, you should have those sort of steps for safety reasons and doing it right. So they had that kind of software. So we merged those two. Then we added another couple of, one piece out of Siemens [AG], and another couple of add-on acquisitions. So over the course of four years, basically, we put five companies together, okay. Now, why this is significant because doing that we actually aggregated and built the largest independent utility software company in the world. And we took a company that was basically break even, losing money to doing, you know, 25 [percent] going to 40 [percent], going to 50 percent EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] margins. And it was run by, so that one of our first deals was a company called SourceNet [Solutions], and the two founders and principals of that business, once we sold that company, we made 2.6 times our money, we had then run Ventyx. Over that four-year period of time, created a business that we then sold to ABB for $1.2 billion. It made basically a billion dollars in profit. Those two principals--this is why this is interesting, Vince Burkett who was a CEO back at SourceNet, became the CEO there, and Bret Bolin, who was the CFO at SourceNet became CFO there. Vince is now a operating partner at Vista and Bret has managed five companies for us and now is on the board of the sixth and will likely come back as an operating partner later. That's an excellent story. And it's not just the story of how we put these businesses together but also invested in these managers, and also built this VCG engine below to help, you know, do the construction, but also out of that we have about six managers who came out of their tutelage who now run other companies of ours. That's how that market, or that's how our model works. And that's how we get leverage in our model. So while not our highest returning deal at five times cash-on-cash, not a bad one, top in the world, okay, it demonstrates what Vista's about, operational improvement, excellence in execution, development of talent, high returns and an expansion of our network.