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Entrepreneur of the Year

The Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year award is given annually to a Cornellian who exemplifies entrepreneurial achievement, community service and high ethical standards.

Nominees must exemplify the ideals of entrepreneurship by meeting the following criteria:

  • Started and successfully managed a business, contributed substantially to the turnaround or growth of a business, or managed a larger business in a way that has demonstrated notable entrepreneurial characteristics and achievements.
  • Contributed to the private enterprise system in ways that are an inspiration to others.
  • Used his or her business skills and creativity to enrich humanity.
  • Conducted his or her business and personal relationships with the highest integrity.

Deadline for nominations is October 16, 2017.
Complete a nomination here.

Robert F. Smith ’85  named Entrepreneur of the Year 2017

RFS Headshot (002)Robert F. Smith ’85 is the Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Vista Equity Partners. He directs Vista’s investment strategy and decisions, firm governance and investor relations. Vista currently manages equity capital commitments of over $26Bn and oversees a portfolio of over 35 software companies that employ over 42,000 people worldwide. Since Vista’s founding in 2000, Mr. Smith has overseen over 235 completed transactions by the firm representing over $70Bn in transaction value. 

During that time, Vista has managed capital for hundreds of limited partners, including many prominent public, private and corporate pension plans, endowments, family offices, and high net worth individuals. For the second time in a row, in November 2015, Vista was named as the world’s #1 performing private equity firm, according to the HECDow Jones annual ranking conducted by Professor Oliver Gottschalg. In 2012, Buyouts magazine awarded the firms Vista Equity Partners Fund III the Gold Medal as the topperforming 2007Vintage Buyout Fund in the U.S. Under Mr. Smith’s leadership, Vista has exclusively focused on the enterprise software, data and technology enabled solutions sectors. Vista understands the software business model, uniquely creating value for all shareholders by combining specifically developed operational improvements (the “Vista SOPs”), operational capability and a longterm perspective. Among Vistas portfolio companies are Solera, Misys, TIBCO, Active Network, Bullhorn, Omnitracs, and Newscycle. 

Born in Colorado to two parents with PhDs, Mr. Smith trained as an engineer at Cornell University, earning his B.S. in Chemical Engineering. Following his MBA from Columbia Business School with honors, Mr. Smith worked at Kraft General Foods, where he earned two United States and two European patents. In 1994, he joined Goldman Sachs in tech investment banking, first in New York and then in Silicon Valley. As CoHead of Enterprise Systems and Storage, he executed and advised on over $50B in merger and acquisition activity with companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Texas Instruments, eBay and Yahoo. He was the first person in San Francisco at Goldman to focus solely on Tech M&A. 

Mr. Smith’s business achievements and global philanthropic works have received recognition from numerous entities including 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 the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, the Award of Excellence from the National Association of Investment Companies, the Pierre Toussaint Award from the Archdiocese of New York, and the Columbia University BBSA Distinguished Alumni Award. 

Mr. Smith is the founding director and President of the Fund II Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the AfricanAmerican experience, safeguarding human rights, providing music education, preserving the environment while promoting the benefits of the outdoors, and sustaining critical American values. In January 2016, Cornell University honored Mr. Smith’s leadership by naming the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. 

Mr. Smith is the Chairman of Carnegie Hall and the Chairman of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. He serves on the Board of Overseers of Columbia Business School, as a Member of the Cornell Engineering College Council, and a Trustee of the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco. He is also an avid fly fisherman.

Mr. Smith will be recognized at the Cornell Entrepreneurship Summit, Friday, November 3, 2017, The Times Center, New York, NY.


Past Recipients include:

  • 2016: Leland Pillsbury ’69, Thayer Lodging Group
  • 2015: Robert Langer ’70, David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT
  • 2014: Greg Galvin MS ’82, PhD ’84, MBA ’93, Rheonix
  • 2013: Ratan Tata ’59, B.Arch ’62, Tata Sons
  • 2012: John Alexander ’74, MBA ’76, CBORD Group, Inc.
  • 2011: Harris Rosen ’61, Rosen Hotels and Resorts
  • 2010: Lubna Olayan ’77, Olayan Financing Company
  • 2009: Jay Walker ’77, Walker Digital
  • 2008: Howard Milstein ’73, New York Private Bank & Trust
  • 2007: Kevin McGovern ’70, McGovern Capital LLC
  • 2005: Robert Toll ’63, Toll Brothers
  • 2004: Steve Belkin ’69, Trans National Group
  • 2003: Jules Kroll ’63, Kroll, Inc.
  • 2002: Rob Ryan ’69, Ascend Communcations; Entrepreneur America
  • 2001: Jeffrey Parker ’65, MEng ’66, MBA ‘70, CCBN
  • 2000: Jeffrey Hawkins ’79, Handspring
  • 1999: William Sanders ’64, Security Capital Group, Inc.
  • 1998: Robert Felton ’61, Indus International, Inc.
  • 1997: Linda Mason ’76, Bright Horizons Children’s Centers
  • 1996: David Duffield ’62, BEE ’63, MBA ’64, PeopleSoft
  • 1995: Arthur Gensler ’58, Gensler and Associates
  • 1994: Irwin Jacobs ’56, Qualcomm, Inc.
  • 1993: Donald Berens ’47, Hickory Farms Sales Corp.
  • 1992: Harvey Kinzelberg ’67, Meridian Group
  • 1991: Kenneth ’61, PhD ’67 & Marjorie ’62 Blanchard, Blanchard Training & Dev.
  • 1989: James McLamore ’47, Burger King Corporation
  • 1988: Julius Kayser ’47, Arthur Wolcott ’49, Seneca Foods Corporation
  • 1987: Alfred ’06, Charles ’33, John ’60 Mellowes, Charter Manufacturing Co.
  • 1986: John Mariani, Jr. ’54, Villa Banfi, USA
  • 1985: Christopher Hemmeter ’62, Hemmeter Investment Co.
  • 1984: Sanford Weill ’55, Citigroup, Inc.