Billionaire Robert F. Smith is a firm believer that helping underserved communities become and remain stable is a win not only for them but for society as a whole.
The founder, chairman, and CEO of Vista Equity Partners participated in the “Powering Forward: Creating a Shared Digital Future” fireside chat moderated by Adeyemi Ajao, co-founder and managing partner of Base10 Partners, at Blavity Inc.’s AFROTECH Conference. During their conversation, the investor shared how today’s young adults should be navigating their tech companies with a prominent component being dedicated to empowering underserved communities through investments.
As an advocate for diversity and the advancement of people of color and minorities, while talking to Ajao, honed in on the benefit of companies having a diverse staff.
“Let’s unpack a couple [of] other pieces quickly. One…economically more diverse companies [and] management teams actually produce higher results,” he said. “I’ve got papers out there that we reference McKinsey and all these smart people that, yeah, guess what? More diverse management team gives you 32% more profitability. You can see all that stuff happen, okay? So that’s the economic imperative of why you do this, you know, to create in essence more profit on the one hand.”
The Student Freedom Initiative founder takes great pride in providing substantial education opportunities to college students. In 2019, Smith committed to paying off nearly 400 Morehouse College students’ loan debt, totaling $34 million, which he saw through. Since Black Americans substantially have more debt, the inventor wants to help liberate Black scholars. He talked about why it’s important to invest in initiatives around rational equity and education for underrepresented communities.
“On the other hand, this is a thing, if you don’t stabilize communities, then you’re destabilizing them,” he said. “If you aren’t bringing into those communities, banking systems, infrastructure, broadband, access to technology, access to education, access to healthcare…people aren’t just gonna sit there and be abused forever ’cause they can see that they’re not being treated [right]. They will move, they will migrate, they will disrupt. And so we have to think about it from that perspective.”
Smith went on to add that when a corporation is being created, programs that pour into community members should be a priority and a part of the overall foundation of an organization to revitalize, strengthen and truly assist in upholding neighborhoods.
“If you want this economy to keep moving, you know, you’ve got to build out that infrastructure of opportunity and that access to the opportunity in ways that create sustainable communities,” he said. “And when you create that, that’s what creates, again, is called the virtuous cycle of economic benefit that we all share. So it’s critically important, you know? You can come to our websites and SFI and all that sort of stuff, but that’s the stuff that you all have to be thoughtful about as an asset manager.”
He ended the inspiring discussion by sharing how his companies lead by example with the effort and work they put into fulfilling this missing critical piece of the puzzle.
“I think you’ve met with a bunch of my team here, you know? We focus on it at the board level for every portfolio company, you know, c-suite level companies hiring internships,” he concluded. “You just gotta do all that you can across the entire suite to drive that. And oh, by the way, supporting that with fantastic results is kind of proof in the pudding we needed.”