The richest black person in America, Robert Smith is a private-equity titan whose Austin-based buyout firm, Vista Equity Partners, got its start when he left a plum job at Goldman Sachs in San Francisco, where he advised tech giants such as Microsoft and Apple. Smith had noticed the eye-popping financial fundamentals of an obscure Houston company that made software for auto dealerships, and he wished other companies could learn from how they did it. Light bulb: Why not buy other companies and help them do just that?
Smith leveraged an investment from that Houston firm, Universal Computer Systems, into Vista—which is now, according to Forbes, the world’s fourth-largest business software company.
Smith isn’t your typical software geek; he’s more like the coach of a big team, getting his players to learn from one another and elevate their respective games. In the 18 years since his firm started, he says, he has never lost money on company that he’s bought. And there have been hundreds.
To take just the most recent example of Vista’s successful approach: in September, Adobe agreed to pay $4.75 billion to acquire marketing-software outfit Marketo from Vista, after Smith’s firm purchased it for $1.8 billion just two years ago. Here are a few other notable numbers that detail Smith’s success.
This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Showing Silicon Valley Another Way to Win in the Software Business.” Subscribe today.