Vista Equity founder Robert F. Smith earns Dealmaker of the Year for breaking fundraising records and easing student debt

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Technology pro
CEO and founder Robert F. Smith led Vista Equity Partners to a stellar year in 2019. The firm broke records in fundraising, completed several $1 billion deals and took a portfolio company public for the first time. Smith made headlines when he gave a generous donation to pay off student loans, positioning himself as a benefactor in a crisis facing many U.S. families.

Fundraiser
Vista Equity Partners is a U.S.-based investment firm with offices in Austin, Chicago, New York City, Oakland, and San Francisco with more than $52 billion in cumulative capital commitments. Vista exclusively invests in software, data, and technology-enabled organizations led by world-class management teams.

In 2019, a year when private equity firms raised more money than they had in any previous year, Vista raised its biggest fund since it was founded in 2000. At $16 billion, Vista Equity Partners Fund VII LP is the biggest technology-focused private equity fund ever raised in the U.S., surpassing funds raised by Silver Lake and Thoma Bravo. (Japan’s SoftBank, headquartered in Tokyo, raised a $100 billion fund in 2017.)

In September, Vista enjoyed its first initial public offering when its portfolio company Ping Identity (NYSE: PING), a developer of secure-access and authentication technology, went public. Vista backed Ping since 2016, when it bought the business for $600 million from a group of prior VC backers that included Draper Fisher Jurvetson, General Catalyst and Ten Eleven Ventures, according to Pitchbook. The stock rose 34 percent on its first day of trading.

Philanthropist
Smith, who serves as the chairman of Carnegie Hall and the chair of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights among many other philanthropic initiatives, in 2019 announced a contribution of $34 million to Morehouse College, an Atlanta-based historically black college or university, or HBCU. Among Morehouse alumni are: civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.; former Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson; and filmmaker Shelton “Spike” Lee. Smith and his family are donating to the new Morehouse College Student Success Program to pay off the loans that students and parents of the Class of 2019 accumulated to fund a Morehouse education. He announced the gift in May, when he received an honorary doctorate from Morehouse. The gift is designed to ease the financial strain on the Class of 2019. More than 400 students, parents, and guardians are expected to benefit.

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