By Robert Stitt
When students think about becoming rich, many of today’s youth think about sports and music. Rightfully so. Many of today’s athletes are commanding salaries that are huge and music artists are right there with them. Even in today’s world where computers are part of most everything we do and the richest man in the world is a computer geek, many students continue to look past the academician when thinking about who is going to make the most money in their class.
Robert F. Smith did not let perceptions stop him. Not only did he know what he wanted to do, he knew where he wanted to do it. Smith was a junior at East High School in Denver when he started to call Bell Labs. Bell Labs had an office in Denver and they were the ones who had invented the transistor. They told him that he was not old enough for an internship and even his A’s in math and computer science could not change their policy. He would have to wait until he was an upperclassman in college.
Smith started calling every day until they stopped taking his calls. He changed tactics and called only on Mondays. He did this for months on end. Then, one day, a college student did not show up for work and Bell’s HR department relented. They called Smith 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. He interned there for the next four years.
What became of this stubborn young man? He founded, and is still the chairman and chief executive of, Vista Equity Partners in Austin, Texas. Now 52 years old, Smith is the 2nd richest black American behind only Oprah, and the 268th richest American. Even sports icons like Michael Jordan have been bumped aside on the list of global billionaires.
Sports figures and musicians may get center stage, but brains still come out on top. It’s been said, “Be nice to geeks, one day you will work for one of them.” Robert Smith helps prove that point.