Robert F. Smith
Robert F. Smith became a Carnegie Hall Trustee in 2013 and was elected chairman of the Board of Trustees in 2016. A technologist, innovator, and investor, Mr. Smith has been recognized by his colleagues as a dedicated trustee and a respected business leader. In response to Mr. Smith’s election as chairman, Carnegie Hall President Sanford I. Weill stated, “He recognizes that music education is important to the intellectual development of young people and that we must play a role in returning music to our schools.”
While serving on the board, Mr. Smith has worked with Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall’s executive and artistic director, to support the Hall’s mission of championing extraordinary artists and bringing the transformative power of music to the widest possible audience. He has also helped further the growth of the Hall’s extensive music education initiatives in schools and communities to reach the next generation of artists and music lovers.
Support for Carnegie Hall Programs
Many of the education and social impact programs of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute (WMI) are supported by Mr. Smith and his wife, Hope. The Fund II Foundation, of which Mr. Smith is the founding director and president, provides lead support for WMI’s Link Up and PlayUSA programs. Together, the Smiths are founding patrons of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America (NYO-USA) and Gold Ambassadors of Ensemble Connect, a fellowship program for exceptional young professional musicians created by Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and WMI in partnership with the New York City Department of Education. The Smiths also support the Hall’s online series Live with Carnegie Hall.
In addition to supporting various programs at Carnegie Hall, Mr. Smith’s family foundation underwrote the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition’s first visit to the United States in 2014, when it was held in Austin, Texas. He has also personally arranged appearances by young violinists from the Menuhin Competition in Berlin, Germany, and during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where Mr. Smith is a recurring participant.
Building a Passion for Music
Mr. Smith’s exposure to music began at an early age, when he learned to play the piano from both his grandmother and his father, who attended the University of Denver on a band scholarship. He quickly became a fan of classical pianist André Watts. With his family, Mr. Smith often vacationed at Lincoln Hills, a retreat in the Rocky Mountains that was popular with jazz musicians. Mr. Smith later refurbished and purchased it, and he founded Lincoln Hills Cares with fellow philanthropist Matthew Burkett. The charitable organization delivers outdoor education and recreation programs and experiences to communities in the metropolitan Denver area and the Front Range Urban Corridor.
Mr. Smith has supported music and the arts throughout his professional career, including a generous gift of $20 million—the largest by an individual donor—to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The Robert F. Smith Internship Program was established with the museum to create opportunities for historically underrepresented individuals. In 2016, Mr. Smith committed to a $250,000 gift to the Sphinx Organization, whose programs are dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts. The gift also established the Robert Frederick Smith Prize, which is presented annually to the winners of the Senior Division of the Sphinx Competition. Additionally, Mr. Smith is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Louis Armstrong House Museum & Archives, a National Historic Landmark and New York City Landmark in Queens.
Career and Philanthropy
Mr. Smith is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, an investment firm based in Austin, Texas. He directs Vista’s investment strategy and decisions, firm governance, and investor relations. Since its inception in 2000, Vista has focused solely on investing in enterprise software, data, and technology-enabled companies. Mr. Smith’s professional accomplishments and demonstrated leadership earned him recognition by Forbes as one of the 100 Greatest Living Business Minds in 2017 and induction into the Texas Business Hall of Fame in 2019.
He has been celebrated for his bold philanthropic efforts as well as for inspiring others to give back. In 2019, Mr. Smith was awarded the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, bestowed by the Carnegie family of institutions. He is the recipient of honors that include the Candle Award in Business and Philanthropy from Morehouse College, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Chair’s Award, the Reginald F. Lewis Achievement Award, the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Robert Toigo Foundation, the Ripple of Hope Award from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the UNCF President’s Award, the Award of Excellence from the National Association of Investment Companies, the Pierre Toussaint Award from the Archdiocese of New York, and the Ron Brown Scholar Program American Journey Award.
A trustee of the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, Mr. Smith is the first African American to sign the Giving Pledge, a campaign that encourages wealthy people to contribute a majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes. In 2019, he committed to eliminate the student-loan debt of Morehouse College’s graduating class, paying $34 million to cover both the students’ and their parents’ loans for their studies. In 2020, Mr. Smith was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.