- Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images
- Billionaire tech investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith announced in his commencement speech at Morehouse College that he would be be paying off all of the student loans for the class of 2019.
- Smith is the founder and CEO of private equity firm Vista Entity Partners, and he has also worked at Kraft Foods and Goodyear Tire.
- He has a chemical engineering degree from Cornell University and a master’s degree in business from Columbia University.
- He married model and actress Hope Dworaczyk in an elaborate Italian ceremony in 2015, complete with performances by John Legend and Seal.
Billionaire tech investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith made a shocking announcement while giving a commencement address to Morehouse College’s class of 2019: he told the 400 graduating students that he would be paying off their student loans.
“My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans,” Smith said during his speech at the all-male historically black college in Atlanta. “You great Morehouse men are bound only by the limits of your own conviction and creativity.”
Smith’s gift to students to pay off their loans is expected to be worth up to $40 million, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Here’s everything you need to know about Smith, the richest black man in America, who Forbes estimates has amassed a net worth of $5 billion.
Landing the sought out internship
Smith has always had a passion for computer science and technology.
As a high school student in Colorado in the 1970s, he desperately wanted an internship at Bell Labs but was told he was too young. He called every Monday for five months and, after an MIT student didn’t show up, finally landed the coveted position. As he told students at a commencement address at American University in 2015, he would go on to work at Bell for the next four years during summer and winter breaks while also completing his chemical engineering degree at Cornell.
After graduating college, Smith took jobs at Kraft Foods and Goodyear Tire and later obtained a master’s degree in business from Columbia. After receiving his MBA, he spent six years at Goldman Sachs in New York and California. Following Goldman’s IPO, Smith founded his own company, private entity firm Vista Equity Partners, in 2000.
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Vista Equity has emerged as one of the of the best-performing private equity firms with annualized returns of 22% since it was founded, as reported by Forbes. According to the company’s website, the firm has more than $46 billion in cumulative capital commitments.
As The New York Times noted in 2014, Vista’s success can be attributed to its unique hiring practices: instead of recruiting candidates with Ivy League degrees and resumes stacked with internships, he looks for people with demonstrable leadership potential and who could bring a wide-range of skills to the company. Relying on a personality test developed by IBM that analyzes a potential hire’s technical and social skills, he has brought in workers ranging from a former roofer to a pizza deliveryman to join the ranks of the company.
Outside the office
Smith is married to actress Hope Dworaczyk, who was named Playboy’s Playmate of the Year in 2010. The couple wed in an elaborate ceremony in 2015 on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, complete with performances by John Legend, Seal, and Brian McKnight, as well as an outrageous cake.
The couple have two children, and Smith is also the father of three from a previous marriage. Two of his sons, Hendrix and Legend, are named after Jimi Hendrix and John Legend, according to The New York Times.
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The billionaire’s announcement on Sunday that he will be paying off Morehouse College’s student loans is just the latest in a string of charitable donations: prior to Smith’s commencement address, he had already pledged $1.5 million to the university to fund scholarships and to design a park to provide students with a new outdoor study area. He also donated $20 million to the National Museum of African American History and Culture – the second largest private donation behind Oprah Winfrey – and bestowed Cornell’s College of Engineering with $50 million to support black and female students, with the university renaming the school after him.
“Now, I know my class will make sure they pay this forward,” Smith told Morehouse’s graduating students. “Let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward, because we are enough to take care of our own community. We are enough to ensure we have all the opportunities of the American Dream.”