“It’s important that these young African-American men understand there are people like Robert Smith out there who can actually be learned in the sciences and engineering and in finance,” said Smith, a graduate of East High School in Denver when it was newly integrated.
He told the news outlet that tenacity is the main ingredient to his success. Smith said he learned to “pick a purpose and to be dogged in the pursuit of that purpose,” while still in high school.
As a high school junior in the 1970s, he developed an interest in computers and sought an internship at Bell Labs in Denver. Those internships, however, were created and reserved for college students.
But that didn’t stop Smith from relentlessly calling the company for six months until Bell Labs invited him for an interview.
“I ran my own race. I knew what I wanted, and my persistence paid off, and I came in and interviewed. They liked me, and I got the internship,” Smith said at an American University commencement address, according to Forbes. “In fact, I worked there for the next four years during summer and winter breaks.”
He went on to graduate from Cornell University and Columbia University before landing a Wall Street job with Goldman Sachs. Smith eventually decided to leave his high-paying position to launch Vista Equity Partners, a private equity and venture capital firm.