Meet the Billionaire Paying Off the Student Loans of Morehouse College’s Class of 2019

May 20, 2019, 4:10 PM UTC

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’ve never heard of Robert F. Smith, the billionaire who gave 400 graduates of Morehouse College the best graduation present of all time Sunday.

A tech executive and philanthropist, Smith has managed to largely stay under the radar despite his riches. That changed when he announced during his commencement speech at the school that he would be paying off the student loans of all of this year’s graduates.

“On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re going to put a little fuel in your bus,” said Smith. “This is my class—2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”

So who is Smith? And how did he make his money? We’ve got a few answers.

What is Robert Smith’s net worth?

Smith has a net worth of $4.47 billion according to Bloomberg’s billionaire index, making him the 428th richest person in the world and the richest black man in America. He’s a self-made billionaire whose biggest asset is Vista Equity Partners, which has $56 billion in assets under management. Among its past and present investments are Marketo, Autotask and Vivid Seats.

How did Robert Smith make his money?

Smith started as an intern at Bell Labs when he was a junior in high school and spent his time outside of school learning how computers work. After obtaining an MBA from Columbia, he went to work for Goldman Sachs, where he was an advisor on mergers for tech giants like Microsoft and Apple. In 2000, he struck out on his own to launch Vista Equity.

What does Robert Smith do with his money?

Philanthropy is a cause that appears near to Smith’s heart. He heads the Fund II Foundation, which has given money to Susan G. Komen, and Global Wildlife Conservation, among others. And last year, he was the largest individual donor at the City of Hope gala, which benefited prostate cancer and breast cancer research for African Americans. He also gave $20 million to to the National Museum of African American History and Culture before it opened—just $1 million less than Oprah Winfrey.

What are Robert Smith’s hobbies?

Music is a dominant force in Smith’s life. He’s a board member at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, which oversees the authentically preserved home of the jazz legend. And he hired John Legend and Seal to perform at his 2015 wedding. He reportedly owns one of Elton John’s old pianos. And he named his sons Hendrix and Legend, after Jimi Hendrix and John Legend.