How Did the Morehouse Billionaire Benefactor Brotha Make His Coin?

By John “John the CEO” Conley

It’s always good to see brothas and sistas doing very well in this sometimes racially insensitive, dog eat dog world we call corporate America. Billionaire Robert Smith, the Austin-based mogul who famously pledged to pay off the student loans of Morehouse College graduates, is one of those feel-good stories to learn from. Just this week, Forbes Magazine published a great article showing how this highly educated, high achieving businessman made his billions in a stuffy, good ol’ boy network industry of high finance/equity-based acquisitions. I highly recommend you read the entire article as it shows a blueprint for how to outthink your competition and excel in areas where “experts” tell you is impossible for us.

What I wanted to especially call out are two areas about his story that we all can learn from in our community regarding how to deal with racism without letting it get us down, as well as how to give back to help others succeed. In the first incident, Mr. Smith encountered an ugly, blatant display of racism in a group of high net worth non-black peers at a high society setting:

At a recent dinner in New York City with a group of senior Wall Street types, including a high-level executive of an investment bank, Smith moved to pick up the check for dinner, but the senior banker stopped him. “I can’t have a black guy buy me dinner,” he chortled.

Forbes Magazine

Note that racism doesn’t only just happen in the South, as this was in New York City. For those of you who still live in a dream land of rainbows and butterflies, where racism somehow disappeared, let this be a reminder that there are pockets of racism at the very top who don’t want or expect black professionals to exceed. But instead of letting it get you down and angry, simply remember that racist knuckleheads who equate IQ with skin color are perhaps the dumbest people walking the earth and don’t deserve you wasting your energy being angry at them. (Thomas Jefferson was one of those knuckleheads who wasted his time writing “scientific” papers at the Univ. of Virginia trying to prove that black skin equates to inferiority). You simply outcompete them and make them irrelevant. That’s what Mr. Smith did.

In the other case, Mr. Smith shows that Morehouse was not his only pledge to the black community:

While it would be easy enough for Smith to fall back on his philanthropy–recent pledges include $20 million to the new National Museum of African American History & Culture and $50 million from a foundation linked to Vista’s first fund to help Cornell boost the representation of women and minorities in scientific research–numbers like that keep Smith feeling upbeat, even cocky, regarding Vista.

Forbes Magazine

Notice how he pledged a significant sum to a black museum as well as to a major university to help it increase the number of women and minorities in STEM fields. I like this two-pronged approach to helping us remember the past yet excel for the future. We can all learn from this example.

About the Author

John Conley is a technology and digital transformation consultant for Samsona Software Co, Inc., based in Dallas, TX. His service offering is focused on enterprise and solution architecture, as well as small business solutions. Feel free to contact him for your business technology needs.

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