The Atlantic

An SAT for CEOs

To get their next job—or keep their current one—some executives might need to take, and ace, a timed exam.
Source: Tyler Comrie

The private-equity firm Vista Equity Partners owns a sprawling portfolio of technology companies, from Automated Insights to the Xactly Corporation. Together, they provide software to just about every major industry. Since its founding, in 2000, Vista has engineered a nearly unbroken string of profitable acquisitions, a run of success that has made Robert Smith—a co-founder, and its chairman and CEO—a very wealthy man. At $4.4 billion, his estimated net worth makes him the richest African American, just ahead of Oprah Winfrey.

Smith is not the household name that Oprah is, and he seems to prefer it that way. He rarely gives interviews—the recent cover story of Forbes’s “World’s Richest People” issue was an exception—and he guards Vista’s secrets closely. On one subject, however, Smith has been relatively open, even chatty: the firm’s knack for hiring and promoting the right people. Vista’s marketing materials tout its “talent and performance management,” a key element of which is a kind of assessment many people find harrowing. Applicants to Vista companies, from the entry to the senior-executive levels, are subjected to a timed standardized test.

Testing, Smith says,

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