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Meet the Richest Black Billionaire in America, a Tech Investor Who Just Paid Off Student Loan Debts for an Entire Graduation Class
Robert F. Smith, the richest black billionaire in America, made it an extra-happy graduation day for the roughly 400 students who just received their degrees from Morehouse College. While giving the commencement address on Sunday, Smith pledged an estimated $40 million to pay off the student loan debt of every Class of 2019 Morehouse College graduate.
Robert F. Smith is a former Goldman Sachs executive, and the founder and CEO of the software investment firmVista Equity Partners. Prior to receiving an honorary doctorate and giving the 2019 commencement speech over the weekend, Smith had agreed to donate $1.5 million to Morehouse College, a historically black institution in Atlanta where the cost of tuition and fees averages about $48,000 a year.
But Morehouse students and administrators say they had no idea that Smith would announce in his speech that he was paying off the student loan debt of every graduate.
This is my class, 2019, and my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans,Smith said, as the crowd of 7,500 attendees burst into cheers.
My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans! -Robert F. Smith told the graduating Class of 2019
All that Smith asked of students in exchange is that they find some way to repay the gift, by way of good deeds for others. This is my class, Smith said, and I know my class will pay this forward.
Heres more of what we know about Robert F. Smith, including details about his career, net worth, and philanthropy.
Robert F. Smiths net worth is currently estimated at $5 billion, according toForbes.
Of the 2,153 people on theForbes2019 list of the worlds billionaires, 13 were black. The tworichest black billionaires, Aliko Dangote and Mike Adenuga, are both from Nigeria, with net worths of $10.9 billion and $9.1 billion, respectively. Robert F. Smith comes next on the list at $5 billion, which is good enough to make him the richest African-American and the worlds third-richest black billionaire overall. (Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan are further down on the list, with net worths estimated at $2.5 billion and $1.9 billion, respectively.)
Robert F. Smith, 56, was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. He earned a chemical engineering degree fromCornell Universityin 1985, and he worked as an engineer for companies such asKraft and Goodyear Tire.
Smith received his M.B.A. from theColumbia University Business Schoolin 1994, and worked in the mergers and acquisition department of Goldman Sachs through 2000. Hefocused in techwhile at Goldman Sachs, and advised on $50 billion worth of investments with companies like Apple, Microsoft, and eBay.
In 2000 Smithfounded Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm that invests in software and tech. Vista currently oversees a portfolio offour dozen software companiesthat collectively employ more than 60,000 workers.
Forbesreportedin 2015 that Vista Equity Partners routinely boasted 30% annual returns from its investments. Smith made the Forbes 400 for the first time that year, with a net worth of $2.5 billion, ranking him No. 269 on the list of richest Americans, as well as the second-richest African-American (after only Oprah Winfrey). Robert F. Smith nudged Oprah out of the top spot in 2018, whenForbesestimated his net worth at $4.4 billion and named him as the nations richest African American.
Smith has five children, including three from his first marriage, to Suzanne McFayden. In 2015, after getting divorced, Robert F. Smithmarried Hope Dworaczyk, the 2010PlayboyPlaymate of the Year, in a luxurious ceremony held in a resort along the Amalfi Coast of Italy. John Legend and Seal were among the performers.
Hope and Robert F. Smith purchased a$59 million penthousein the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan in 2018. The apartment covers two floors has 10,000 square feet of living space, including six bedrooms, seven bathrooms, and a private rooftop terrace with a pool.
The Smiths also own an 11,622-square-foot mansion in Malibu, California, which they bought in 2015 from Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Yolanda Hadid for roughly $20 million. The home in Malibu is currently being rented by another reality TV star,Kylie Jenner.
Smith was the first African American to sign the Giving Pledge, a foundation and movement created by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to encouragebillionaires to give away their fortunesto help solve the worlds problems.
My path was paved by my parents, grandparents and generations of African-Americans whose names I will never know, Smith explained when announcing his commitment to theGiving Pledgein 2017. Their struggles, their courage, and their progress allowed me to strive and achieve. My story would only be possible in America, and it is incumbent on all of us to pay this inheritance forward.
Smith had been renowned for his philanthropy and generosity long before promising to eliminate the student debt for 2019 Morehouse College graduates. Among his biggest donations have been $50 million to Cornell University, for the creation of theRobert F. Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and $20 million to theNational Museum of African American History and Culturein Washington, D.C.
Smith is a huge music fan he named one of his sons Hendrix and owns a piano that belonged to Elton John and became thechairman of Carnegie Hallin New York City in 2016. Smith is simultaneously the chairman of theRobert F. Kennedy Human Rightsgroup, and serves as a trustee for the Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco.
Another of Smiths passions isLincoln Hills Cares, a nonprofit he cofounded to provide outdoor experiences to young people in his native Colorado. The historic Lincoln Hills ranch was founded as an African-American retreat in 1922. Smiths parents went on vacation there every summer, and he purchased the property a few years ago.
Last summer, we had over 5,400 inner city kids at our ranch. We had about 200-300 wounded veterans who fly fish, at Lincoln Hills, Smith told theDenver Postin 2017. We have a program with Craig Hospital for quadriplegics where they can actually fish with blow tubes. And we have an inner city program for girls for equestrian riding.
Robert F. Smiths pledge to pay off this years Morehouse College graduates student loan debt left the commencement crowd overwhelmed with gratitude.
If I could do a backflip, I would. I am deeply ecstatic, a Morehouse business administration graduate named Elijah Dormeus told theAtlanta Journal-Constitution.
[VIDEO] To watch Robert F. Smiths entire speech at todays commencement go to our YouTube channel
I didnt believe it. I kept asking people for reassurance that he just said what he said, Carney Burns, whose son John just graduated from Morehouse College with what he had expected would be $35,000 in student loan debt, said to theWall Street Journal. A Morehouse education, you cant put a price on it, but the bills are real.
Another 2019 Morehouse graduate, 21-year-old Dwytt Lewis of Compton, California, said that he felt a huge weight lifted off your shoulders after hearing that his $150,000 in debt was being paid off by Smith and his family. Its just an overwhelming feeling, in a good way, Lewis said toCBS News. Im so motivated to go change the world.
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