In 2000, Robert Smith took a risk to start his own company, called Vista Equity Partners. His colleagues thought he was crazy to leave his position at the highly reputable and successful Goldman Sachs. But Smith did it anyway, and now his company is worth $30 billion. Smith himself is worth about $2.5 billion, earning him a spot on the Forbes list as the second-richest African American in the U.S., second only, that is, to Oprah.
“Like all things, you have to decide if you take a risk or not, and I looked at it and said, ‘Well, how am I gonna feel, you know, 15, 20 years from now, if I don’t take this risk and go try this?’” Smith said in an interview with 9News. “There is that fear, that constant fear of, you know, stepping backwards; you go off the cliff. When I left Goldman, it was really that. I didn’t really have a backup plan.”
“It’s important that these young African-American men understand there are people like Robert Smith out there who can actually be learned in the sciences and engineering and in finance,” the successful businessman added.
Smith started out at East High School, a public high school in Denver. As a high school junior, he took an interest in computer science, to the point where he soon devoted himself to securing an internship with Bell Labs in Denver, which was intended for college juniors. After six months of relentlessly calling Bell Labs about the internship opportunity, he was offered an interview. Smith worked for Bell Labs in the years that followed, and it was there that he grew his love of science.
After graduating from Cornell University, Smith took a position on Wall Street with Goldman Sachs, and then one day, he decided to start his own company and never looked back.
Smith says his persistence has carried him this far, and it continues to do so. He wants young black men to invest in their STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.
“If you look at a lot of the gifts that I’m focused on driving, directing and giving, a lot of them are really towards creating opportunity for African Americans and women in STEM education,” Smith said.