What to know about Robert F. Smith, the man paying off U.S grads’ student loans


What to know about Robert F. Smith, the man paying off U.S grads' student ...
Robert F. Smith speaks during his commencement speech at Morehouse College. PHOTO | CNN

In Summary

  • Smith is the richest black person in the United States, with a net worth of $5 billion, according to Forbes. Yes, he's richer than Oprah.
  • He's the founder of the investment firm Vista Equity, which boasts capital commitments of $46 billion, according to its website. In 2019, Smith was #355 on the Forbes Billionaires List.
  • Smith is the son of educators who started his career as a chemical engineer for Goodyear and Kraft.

Robert F. Smith lifted a huge burden off the graduating class of Morehouse College when he announced during his commencement speech that he would pay off the student loan debt of more than 300 students.

That’s up to $40 million, a spokesperson for the historically black college told CNN.

Here’s what you need to know about the 56-year-old billionaire investor.

How he made his billions

Smith is the richest black person in the United States, with a net worth of $5 billion, according to Forbes. Yes, he’s richer than Oprah.

He’s the founder of the investment firm Vista Equity, which boasts capital commitments of $46 billion, according to its website. In 2019, Smith was #355 on the Forbes Billionaires List.

Smith is the son of educators who started his career as a chemical engineer for Goodyear and Kraft. He attended business school at Columbia University and went on to make a fortune off investing in the technology sector, working for Goldman Sachs before starting Vista Equity in 2000.

Smith has praised the potential of technology to create capital and wealth for people across the globe as well as improve lives.

“Intellectual capital has become the new currency of business and finance — and the promise of utilizing brainpower to move individuals, families and even entire communities from poverty to prosperity within one generation has never been more possible than at this moment in time,” he wrote in an essay for the Giving Pledge.

He cautioned, though, that not everyone gets to reap the benefits of that potential.

“Potential is no guarantee of progress,” Smith wrote in the essay. “We will only grasp the staggering potential of our time if we create onramps that empower ALL people to participate, regardless of background, country of origin, religious practice, gender, or color of skin.”

He has quite the generous streak

Smith is a big believer in paying it forward.

Before Sunday’s student loans announcement, he donated $1.5 million to Morehouse College for scholarships and the development of a new park. In 2016, he pledged $50 million to Cornell University, one of his alma maters, to support its chemical and biomolecular engineering school, as well as black and female engineering students.

In 2017, he signed the Giving Pledge, an effort spearheaded by billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to enlist wealthy Americans in giving away half of their fortunes.

Smith said he would invest half of his net worth during his lifetime to causes that support equality for black Americans and the environment, while his wife, model Hope Dworaczyk Smith, would focus on helping children.

He’s one of the founding donors of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, committing $20 million to the museum before its opening.

He’s also the founder and president of the Fund II Foundation, which provides grants for causes such as human rights, the environment, music education and “preserving the African American experience.”

He’s married to a Playboy playmate

In 2015, Smith married model Hope Dworaczyk in a lavish ceremony on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, featuring performances by John Legend, Seal and Brian McKnight.

Dworaczyk was named Playboy’s playmate of the Year in 2010 and was a host and co-producer for the Canada-based show “Inside Fashion” on E!

The couple has two children together, and Smith has three other children from a previous marriage.

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